TAYLORVILLE - While serving time away from their own homes and loved ones, Taylorville Correctional Center inmates have worked to help 150 Central Illinois families, including some in Bloomington-Normal, have homes to call their own.
Through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity, men at the prison have been constructing walls for Habitat homes since 1998, said David Sharpe, a construction occupation instructor who has been leading the program for seven years. They dedicated the walls for their 150th home Friday afternoon with a reception at the prison.
"This particular phase of it right here is the incredible one," he said, gesturing toward the walls that had been erected earlier in the sally port/receiving area. "It is so cool to stand back and watch this happen time and time and time again."
The two-story house will go to a single mother in Bloomington with two young sons.
Sharpe said in his time leading the program, he's seen many inmates change for the better, developing a sense of pride and self-worth and learning a trade they can use upon release.
"I've learned what teamwork can do," he said. "I've learned what positive things can do in a negative environment."
The prisoners do good work and shorten the construction time for each home, said Toni Molck, family services director for Habitat for Humanity of McLean County. The group brings together volunteers and families in need of housing to build or rehab affordable housing.
"It's neat to have another partner out there," she said.
Inmate Steve Newbolds, one of Sharpe's teaching assistants for the course, said the process can start out a little difficult, but the workers quickly hit their stride and meld into a team. The group can construct the walls for each house in a little more than a day.
"It's a good feeling knowing that we're helping these people and being part of society and actually doing something positive," Newbolds said.
Work began Tuesday on walls for a home for Sheri Gilmer, a single mom from Normal with two daughters, 6 and 9. Gilmer worked on construction of at least four other homes to fulfill a 50-hour work requirement before her own construction could begin.
"I really like the fact that there are so many hands that go into accomplishing this," she said. "I think one really important thing that I've learned through this process is strength doesn't mean that you never make mistakes or that you can do it all by yourself but that you can accept help from others."