Though many of them didn’t know each other before Thursday, the hundreds of students from across Georgia who volunteered to paint houses in east Macon managed to share laughs, camaraderie and as well as getting their clothes smudged with white paint.

The students, who are in Macon for the Future Farmers of America convention this weekend, also shared a desire to take part in projects to help Bibb County residents.

“It’s good to give back,” said Johnny Slauson, a sophomore at Locust Grove High School who was one of about 300 students volunteering to paint houses for Rebuilding Macon. “We get to joke around and get work done. ... I’ve got paint on my shoes!”

Hundreds of the 4,000 students in town this weekend for the convention ended up doing hours of volunteer work Thursday with Rebuilding Macon, the Middle Georgia Community Food Bank and The Children’s Hospital at The Medical Center of Central Georgia.

Students signed up to work with Rebuilding Macon to paint four houses in the east Macon neighborhood near the Wilson Convention Center, he said. Initially three houses were to be painted, but when more members wanted to participate, organizers added another house to the list.

“We try not to have much more than 65 (volunteers) at a house, and we had more sign up to work,” state FFA Executive Secretary Ben Lastly said. “We didn’t want to turn people away, so we added another house.”

Debra Rollins, executive director of Rebuilding Macon, said the students who volunteered represented schools across Georgia.

“A lot of them never met each other” before Thursday, she said. “It’s a huge boost for us to be able to do four houses in a day. A lot of them are raised on a farm, so a lot of them are used to hard work and getting the job done.”

Beth Galloway, a teacher at Piedmont Academy in Monticello, said it’s good for her students to learn to give back to the community.

“It very fulfilling to have the kids give of themselves,” said Galloway, whose students made up part of a group that painted a house on Woolfolk Street. “It helps them learn about life outside of school.”

Dallas Fletcher, a junior at Piedmont Academy, said she enjoyed working alongside students from other schools.

“It’s been fun helping out people, and meeting the people from other schools,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the rest of the weekend.”

Though organizers carved out four hours for the painting, there were enough volunteers that the work was completed in half the time. The painting at one house, on Sanford Avenue, was completed by noon.

Abbey Brown, a teacher at Locust Grove High School, said service work can be rewarding to students.

“Being able to give back means a lot,” she said. “They like the hands-on activities where they can see what they did. Having a result they can see means a lot.”

Diane Scales, whose father built the Sanford Avenue house in 1948, said she couldn’t remember the last time it was painted.

“It’s wonderful,” she said. “(The students) are everywhere, and they’re helping. ... I think it helps them. They learn how nice it is to help someone.”

Rollins said Rebuilding Macon, celebrating its 20th anniversary, refurbished 309 houses last year and had already finished 100 this year. She said adult volunteer workers were scheduled to come in later Thursday and throughout the weekend to finish other work at the homes, such as putting in new floors.

The Georgia chapter of the FFA is holding its 84th state convention Thursday through Saturday in Macon at the Wilson Convention Center and the Macon Coliseum. This is the sixth year the convention has been held in Macon, Lastly said.

“Macon is a great host, and we have the opportunity to fill the (venue) to capacity,” Lastly said in a news release. “I believe there will be record attendance, amazing events and that this will be the most memorable state FFA convention in history.”

As part of the other community service projects, members will bring canned goods and not only donate those items to the Middle Georgia Community Food Bank, but also between 40 and 50 members will work at the food bank for about two hours, Lastly said.

“They will help package the food to show them what happens to it,” he said.

Students also volunteered their time working at The Children’s Hospital.

Other events for attendees include several competitions such as in public speaking and parliamentary procedures, he said. Members also will hold elections for state officers.

The Georgia FFA Association was founded in 1929 and has brought together students, teachers and agribusiness to support agricultural education, the release stated. It is the third-largest state association in the country with 285 chapters and more than 32,000 members.

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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