The brothers of Sigma Phi Epsilon work on renovating a new home for a family who lost everything in a fire.

The brothers of Sigma Phi Epsilon work on renovating a new home for a family who lost everything in a fire.

News travels fast, especially in a small community. In January 2012, the news of a family who lost its home in a fire the day after Christmas traveled from an 8-year-old to an elementary schoolteacher to a University administrator to a Clemson student.

That student took action.

When the home burned, it took with it everything the Nicholson family owned. The family of six was forced to move in with relatives, another family of six in the same mobile home community. The residents were crowded into cramped quarters, forced to double up and sleep in recliners.

“The girls hated seeing their burned-down home every day. They kept asking when they’d be able to go home,” said Leroy Nicholson, the father of four girls under 8 years old.

When Clemson student Scott Herkamp from Cincinnati heard about the family, he took the issue to his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon. The brothers decided to put the Nicholson family into a home of its own.

An action that shocked the Nicholsons.

“They didn’t even know us. That kind of person with that kind of heart, it’s really unbelievable. There are really not enough thank yous to explain how it feels,” said mother, Ingrid Nicholson. “It eased the kids’ minds to know they had a home to come home to.”

The owner of the community where the Nicholsons’ lived generously donated a home to the family for the price of $1 per year. However, it needed work — a lot of work. The unit hadn’t been rented by anyone in two years and had rotted floors, moldy walls, stripped paint and cracked tile. The exterior was so overgrown with shrubs that the electrician couldn’t access the electric box. The Sigma Phi Epsilon brothers had only three weeks to complete the job, or the children would be removed from the family by DSS because of the over-crowded living conditions.

The brothes worked three weeks to prepare the home for its new family.

The brothes worked three weeks to prepare the home for its new family.

This was more than a one-time service commitment. From Jan. 22 to Feb. 10, the fraternity brothers worked day in and day out on the house until the project was completely finished.

They replaced tile, plumbing, floors, carpet, dry wall, paint and mulch, working side-by-side with the Nicholson parents. As an organization, the fraternity donated nearly $1,400 and more than 350 hours to the project. Sigma Phi Epsilon alumni also donated money, and people in the community provided clothes and furniture as well as money.

“One of the most rewarding results of the project was seeing the family taking pride and showing the kids their home. I’d rather spend hours working on a site than cut a check. We had the opportunity to change lives with this project,” said Eric Rackley, a senior biological sciences major from Venetia, Pa.

Every year the fraternity participates in philanthropy through their organization, but this project personally impacted many of the brothers.

“This project really helped provide the right mindset for how fortunate we are,” said Todd Rapoport, a junior construction science management major from Stonington, Conn.

According to the brothers, the project wouldn’t have been a success without the guidance and assistance of Clemson’s associate dean of students, Rusty Guill, or his wife, Melanie Guill, a first-grade teacher at Ravenel Elementary School, who both played significant roles in the project’s coordination and execution.

“It is hard to express my thoughts on watching these young men give so generously of their time and resources to help a family that they had never met,” Rusty Guill said. “I hope their example will encourage other student groups to take on projects like this in our community. Through their efforts, they were able to keep a family together and give them a home. They also became a stronger and closer fraternity.”

It only takes one person to start a change.