Hammers, nails and birthday cakes: Maryville teen uses special occasion to help Habitat
By Melanie Tucker | (email@example.com)
A roof over our heads, a warm bed and a meal in the morning — basic necessities for one and all.
Julia Snell was only 5 years old when she found out not everyone has that. That some people don’t have a house to call their own.
She didn’t just worry over it, forget it or ignore it. She’s doing something about it.
The sophomore at Maryville High School just turned 16 and held her Sweet 16 party last weekend. She sent out invitations to family and friends; her mom made cupcakes; everyone got to watch “Despicable Me” and eat kettle corn.
But when the night was over, Snell had collected $506 that she is now donating to Habitat for Humanity, a ministry that helps low-income families realize the dream of home ownership. This wasn’t her first such party. She’s had the birthday celebrations/donation parties every year from the time she was 6. Ever since she had that conversation in kindergarten with mom and realized there are people who need some help to get to where the rest of us already are.
“I just got into a discussion with my mom and I was just like ‘Everybody should have a house,” Julia said. “I just decided that doing this was a great idea.”
So when her 40 or so friends arrived at the Palace Theater last Saturday, they weren’t expected to bring CDs, books, gadgets or clothing as gifts for Julia. All she wanted were donations for Habitat. Her friends did as they were asked, which is how she got to that $506 total.
Over the last 10 years, she’s raised thousands for this nonprofit. Mom Renee said both her daughters have the desire to do their part to make this a better world. Julia’s sister Erica, who is 12, has also hosted birthday parties every year and taken up donations for Habitat.
“I had no idea at that age,” Renee said. “I don’t think I looked around that much at the world. Just from being pretty big readers and looking around they realize how hard it’s been for people in this economy. They know people whose parents have lost their job, people having a hard time.”
A night to remember
The party at the Palace Theater in downtown Maryville featured lots of Julia’s favorite things — she handed out bags of her favorite candy, watched her favorite movie, enjoyed kettle corn, drank water and even wore a pair of sneakers with her party dress — all the while enjoying a milestone with her favorite people.
There are some of Julia’s friends who have been attending her parties every year. Little preschoolers who are towering over 6 feet tall today. “A lot of them have come to expect it,” the teenager said.
Susan Hughes is the faith relations/volunteer coordinator for Blount County Habitat for Humanity. She doesn’t know of any sisters who have teamed up on birthday fundraisers like the Snells. She has known the Snell family for years.
“We are amazed at the caring hearts of these daughters that are choosing to help others as their gifts to themselves,” Hughes said.
Erica and Julia are competitive swimmers. They devote much of their time away from school to their sport and it also requires dedication from parents Renee and Dave. Despite a hectic schedule, Julia said she will always take time to make a difference. Now that she’s 16, she can do the physical work on Habitat builds.
MHS has a team that will be working on a house come spring. Expect Julia to be jumping right in.
Hughes said MHS first got involved with Habitat for Humanity back in 2000 and it’s had a team ever since. This will be the 13th build for them, she said.
It all adds up
As for the $506 Julia raised, that will pay for 10 square feet of a Habitat House, Hughes said. That money can be put toward the MHS build next spring.
The birthday parties, Renee said, have been an easy way for her daughters to get involved with an important social issue. They have taken a day on which they would have done something special anyway, and gotten others to band with them. They might even inspire more young people to start something similar, their mom said.
Knowing what needs to be done is often as simple as asking a question.
“Julia is one of those people that if she sees you and knows you are having a hard time, the first thing out of her mouth is ‘What can I do to help you?’” her mom said.