Irene and her family re-enter their home May 5 to find Xavier’s Young Vincentians gave it a floor-to-ceiling makeover. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

They’re probably years away from owning a home, but 15 teenagers know firsthand the sacrifice required to maintain one.

There’s sanding, painting, deep cleaning, moving in large furniture and area rugs, drilling, hanging curtains and art plus adding personal touches such as flowers and decorative lamps. The girls did it all in a home that they’ll never live in nor likely step foot in again.

Xavier’s Young Vincentians simply did it because they heard about a family in need and jumped at the chance to meet them in their own environment instead of in a soup line. The Xavier girls completed their first home makeover May 5 through St. Vincent de Paul’s Vincentian Fresh Perspectives program.

The month-long project started with meeting the single-parent family of six to discuss their needs and desires. It ended after a full day’s labor transformed the tiny, three-bedroom house into a more stylish, livable space.

“I was skeptical about the project because it’s a lot of work, especially for a group of teenagers,” admitted Samantha Swift, president of Xavier’s Young Vincentians club.

She’s right. Corporate volunteers, church and community groups have been responsible for most of the 61 home makeovers since St. Vincent de Paul launched the program over a year ago. Some brought groups of volunteers that seemingly rivaled the crowd doing a home makeover for the long-running television show.

Xavier’s Young Vincentians didn’t let such statistics stop them. They spread word about their project to the school community who purged personal belongings from their own homes and donated other items brand new. They ended up with more items than would fit into the family’s south Phoenix home.

“We didn’t want to let them down,” Swift said.

She spoke about them as if the kids — ages 10 to 22 — were her cousins and was among several volunteers who willingly got up early the day after senior finals to help the St. Vincent de Paul family.

“Each one of these girls is really driven to do the best they can for this family. They want this family to have a life that they have — comfortable in their home,” Swift said.

Comfort is something the family has lacked in their rental home for the last year. , have They share a single bathroom in a less than 1,000-square-foot space and only one person could really fit in the kitchen at a time. A portion of the old couch was usable, but barely.

“They’ve been sleeping on the floor and a couple of air mattresses,” Swift said.

Irene, the mom, is without a job and uses the living room as a master bedroom. Her adult son, 22, has a disability and is the only one to have his own room.

“They’ll still be a little cramped, but it will be nice for them,” said Elaine Carpenter, a senior who wants to go into international nonprofit.

Irene knew she would be returning to an improved home and began doling out hugs at the driveway. Once indoors, they were astounded by the transformation. One of the older kids quickly told the younger ones to help mom with chores so their “new” home stays nice.

Gabriela Bova, director of outreach programs for St. Vincent de Paul, said pride has been a common theme among the makeovers.

That’s something Swift, president of Xavier’s Young Vincentians, projected would finally sink in with the family later that night. She especially wanted the younger kids to have a place that they’re proud of.

The family lives near a Boys and Girls Club, but hoped the makeover would lend itself to more family time at home.

Gavin Ahern, moderator for Xavier Young Vincentians, said the home makeover was about being God’s hands in the world. When people come together in His name, Ahern said, the result is much great than the sum of its parts.

With the help of their parents, 19 junior high ambassadors from Blessed Pope John XXIII School in Scottsdale furnished and decorated a home for a family of 10 in October. The family, displaced by flooding in the Midwest, was rebuilding their life in Arizona. ✴


For more about St. Vincent de Paul’s Vincentian Fresh Perspectives program: