Students lead Douglas community in building Habitat home for veteran

Asking teenagers to give up a Saturday is no easy sell, no matter what the reason. But to ask them to spend the day outside in the hot sun driving nails for no pay is beyond expectations.

Not so in Douglasville. Students from Alexander High School have been waiting more than a year to build a Habitat for Humanity home in a neighborhood created just for veterans, and they couldn’t wait to get started the first Saturday in August. The Alexander-sponsored project is scheduled each Saturday through Oct. 16. The home build has attracted many volunteers from the community and other schools.

“It’s awesome. I’m super excited,” said Alexander senior Sutton Cadman, donning a hard hat in the muggy morning heat.

As a sophomore in 2018, Sutton started a Habitat for Humanity chapter at his school. He was searching for a new activity after an injury kept him from continuing in baseball.

Sutton didn’t just want to start a chapter; he wanted members to take charge of a house build. It was an enormous undertaking because they would need to raise almost $90,000 and organize volunteers for nine weeks of construction.

He gathered officers, and the group of teens started raising funds, dollar by dollar. They held yard sales, car washes, sold T-shirts and held raffles.

As club president, Sutton spoke before civic clubs and the Chamber of Commerce. As word got out, Douglas County businesses began to chip in money. A local attorney read about their project and donated $45,000 from the Winn Family Foundation to put them over the finish line.

Frank Winn said his father was a World War II fighter pilot in the Pacific, and was proud to support a veteran’s cause.

Veterans Place is one of only two all-military Habitat neighborhoods in the country. This house will go to Steve Harris, a disabled Army veteran, and his long-time fiancée Jane Kellogg, and it will be their first one. They’ve always been renters, and for a couple of years lived out of their car. Kellogg said they sacrificed and saved and ate a lot of rice and beans to become homeowners.

“I’m so happy and so blessed,” Kellogg said as she helped with construction during the first day of the home build. She said she was “blown away” that a group of teenagers was sponsoring her house.

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around that,” she said. “I’m so overwhelmed. I think every Saturday that I come out here, I’m going to be overwhelmed.”

The pandemic delayed construction for more than a year, and expenses climbed due to high lumber prices and other building costs. While waiting, Alexander students stayed focused and continued raising money, said Debbie Rager, English department head and Habitat club sponsor.

While other high schools have completed Habitat builds, it usually takes students from several schools working together. Alexander is unique because it’s just them, said Jessica Gill, Habitat, NW Metro Atlanta CEO.

“These students have earned a special place in the Habitat family. Their determination to meet their goal of building a house for a veteran serves as an example to all of us,” Gill said.

The project quickly became a community effort, with families and local leaders wanting to support veterans, said club sponsor Rager. Teachers and former students joined in the Day 1 construction, and even Sutton’s two grandmothers were helping by giving out water bottles and words of encouragement.

“I’m so proud. This is such a good life experience,” said grandmother Linda Derrick.

The build attracted volunteers from the community, like Don Gray, 91, his 27th Habitat house build.

“I’ve been waiting to do it,” said Gray, a Douglas County resident. He said he was impressed with all the young folks working by his side.

Douglasville resident Leslie Choo served as the volunteer house leader for the project. As a general contractor in home construction, Choo has donated his expertise on many Habitat builds and said he doesn’t typically see students this young taking charge.

“This is somewhat unique because the majority of them were sophomores when they started,” Choo said. “At that age, I sure wasn’t interested in raising money and building houses for people I didn’t know.”


Habitat house: 8406 Military Way, Douglasville.

Volunteers needed each Saturday through Oct. 16, 7:45 a.m.-4 p.m. Register onsite. Sponsors needed each week for food and drinks.

Must be age 16, except on last day, Oct. 16, 14 and up can help with landscaping.

Home dedication: Oct. 23

Alexander Habitat for Humanity chapter will begin raising funds in January for another house project. Donations can be made at