TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — With summer winding down and school starting soon, teenagers Nick Scherer and John Milici didn't have to travel to Alabama to help build a home, but it's something they wanted to do. And when they return to their friends and classmates in New Jersey, they can share their message about getting involved in community service.
"I hope we can inspire others to join in and help because it's better than anything else," said the 17-year-old Scherer, who will be a senior fullback and linebacker at Nutley High School. "When you help build a house for someone, actually put a roof over their head, and see the reactions that we got to see, it was awesome."
Milici, 17, is preparing for his senior season as a football and baseball player at Nutley.
"This year we were able to make a direct impact by helping someone move back into a house that got destroyed," Milici said.
The volunteers included athletes from Nutley and from Bloomfield High School. Making the trip were Scott Gonzalez, Jonathan Russo, Griffin Airy, Austin Kunz, Peter Burbank, Brandon Costa, Salvatore Gabriele, Kevin Merkle, Justin Corio, Vinnie Saco and Joe Inninni. J.D. Vick, who coaches at Nutley, organized the trip. Enyinna K. Ibeh, a coach Bloomfield, came along as did adult volunteers Chris High and Joe Dennis.
Vick, a former coach and athletics director at Tuscaloosa Christian, established a Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter at Nutley High School. He and group of Nutley athletes came to town last year to assist in clean-up efforts after the April 27 tornado. A graduate of Tuscaloosa Christian, Vick happened to be visiting at his parents' house when the storm hit.
A year ago, the New Jersey teenagers were involved in clearing debris and painting fire hydrants. This time the group worked on a Habitat for Humanity project in Alberta City.
"We worked mostly on one house," said Vick, who was cited as a "difference maker" in a State Farm ad that ran in Sports Illustrated. "We pretty much framed it up and got all the rafters up. These guys learned how to drive nails and work a little bit. There were several thumbs that were hit, but only a couple of casualties, so we were pretty happy about that.
"The greatest quality of a leader is to be a servant. Hopefully, these guys are going to lead by doing that. They inspired other people to come out and work."
Vick said a friend who has a construction company found out the New Jersey group was in town and brought his crew out for a couple of days.
"Hopefully, it won't be the last time they help other people in this kind of way," Vick said. "We want to see these guys turn into men of integrity and men that will be leaders in the community and in their families as husbands and as fathers."
Scherer and Milici, who made the trip last year, got to meet the husband and wife who will move into the new house.
"They gave us hugs and thanked us," Scherer said. "That's when it really hit me what an impact we had. Just seeing the other volunteers, like how we inspired them to come out, it's really like a ripple effect. Hopefully, others will be encouraged to get involved with their FCA, Habitat for Humanity or just volunteering in general because it's a great feeling."
Milici said the husband told the players they "helped his dream come true."
"It humbles me, I guess, as a person," Milici said. "I realized how a lot of people have it worse than me. I'm grateful that I'm the one that's able to help people, not the one who has to be helped. In life, hopefully, that can progress me forward and I can continue helping people.
"It was a great trip overall. It was a bunch of new people. It was fun doing something new. I never built a house before. It was one of the best experiences of my life, just like it was last year."
The visit wasn't all about work. The athletes were able to play a little basketball at Tuscaloosa Christian, and they toured the University of Alabama's football facilities, Bryant-Denny Stadium and the Paul W. Bryant Museum. They went to a shooting range to test their skills with rifles and shotguns, and they sampled the local cuisine. Scherer and Milici said they both planned to load up on souvenirs before flying back to New Jersey.
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