SOUTH PORTLAND — On Saturday, Jan. 15, the Center Court at the Maine Mall will be a construction zone.
And don’t tell the Department of Labor, because they’ll be using child labor.
But instead of bricks and mortar, the kids will be using what many consider to be the building blocks of our youth: LEGOs.
From 1-4 p.m., more than 100 children – and adults, too – are expected to take part in the fourth annual YOUth Can Build LEGO House Buildathon.
The event is being sponsored by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland, one of nine nonprofits affiliated with the international group that builds affordable housing for low-income families.
The organization will use money raised from the $20 participation fee and other fundraising by entrants to finish a “Youth Build” house in Westbrook, which will eventually become the home of a mother and her three children.
Program Coordinator Stefanie C. Millette said last year’s event sold out. While the group only planned on 80 participants, it had to scramble to accommodate 90.
Millette said she expects this year’s event to be the biggest one yet.
“We’re preparing for a lot more kids this year,” she said. “It really is an all-generations event.”
Millette said that representative from the New England LEGO Users Group will be present. She suggested the group may have a special LEGO creation planned.
“Some of their components move and require electricity,” she said.
Those who register for the event will be given 500 LEGO blocks with which to build a house. Millette said the group has collected “thousands and thousands and thousands” of LEGOs through donations over the years.
At the end of the competition, each house will be judged. Millette said there are 10 trophies made of LEGOs that will be given out honoring creativity and traditional excellence in each of five age categories.
Another LEGO trophy will be given to the top fundraiser, and a $100 gift certificate to J.C. Penney will go to the person who can guess how many LEGOs are in a container.
Millette said it is always interesting to see the entries for the creativity category.
“A lot of kids have crazy and wonderful imaginations,” she said. “It ends up looking like horse with a door on it, and that’s their house.”
Although Habitat for Humanity does not have an official fundraising goal, Millette said she would like to see participants raise at least $2,000 – twice the amount they did last year.
The broader goal of the event, Millette said, is to raise awareness about Habitat for Humanity and affordable housing needs in the state.
“We’re trying to get the word out there in a friendly way, a fun way and a creative way, rather than attacking (people) with pamphlets and knocking on their door,” she said.
Millette estimates volunteers will speak to 800 people over the four-hour period in the mall, giving the group an opportunity to clear up misconceptions about the organization and the state’s housing shortage.
Many people equate the housing shortage with homelessness and poverty, she said, but many would-be home owners are living in apartments trying to find an affordable house.
“We’re past the point where people could find a house that can fit their income level,” she said. “In Maine, there are so many houses that are huge. There are beautiful new developments being built everyday, but those houses aren’t affordable.”
Millette said the group also wants people to know that they are working here in Maine, rather than only far-away exotic lands.
Since 1985, the group has completed more than 50 homes in Maine, with projects underway in Westbrook and Freeport.
The money raised from the event will used to help put the finishing touches on the “Youth Build” home, being built by Deering High School students, in Westbrook.
“It’s a fun casual way to get the word the out,” she said.
A snow date has been scheduled for Jan. 22.
Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or firstname.lastname@example.org