Columbia, SC (WLTX) - They say there's a difference between building a house and building a home. At a wood shop on the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice Campus, a group of students are learning to build both.
"It's emotional," said 16 year old Billy McLellan. "I was overwhelmed. Just excited. I felt like I could make a difference, not only for myself but for these homeless veterans."
These veterans though didn't need houses with windows and doors because when they passed, no one claimed their bodies. No family, no friends. No one took them home.
"I feel like it's helped me open my eyes up not only to helping other people, but to the military," McLellan said. "I never really thought about the soldiers that died for us but building urns for them thinking about how these people didn't have anywhere to go home, no family to claim them, it just made me feel like I was doing something good."
McLellan has been a cadet at DJJ for a year and is in the ROTC program there.
"I never really ran a saw or anything like that when I was at home," McLellan said. "It was different but I'm glad I learned."
The real value in building urns for these young men was less about learning, and more about life.
"For teenagers and young adults, it's hard for them to visualize and conceptualize what the generations before your generation and my generation went through to allow us to grow up in the society we're in," said Sam Bower.
Bower started the wood shop program at DJJ about a year ago.
Roy's Wood Products in Lugoff donated all the wood for the urn project. Bower said the initiative has given his program new life.
"These guys all understand in their mind, but I don't think they've really experienced enough to feel in their heart how large this contribution is," Bower said.
Their contribution has already laid six unclaimed veterans to rest. Next month at a second ceremony, the wood shop urns will bury 30 more.
"We want each and every one to follow the grain," said Max Rodriguez, who also helped build the urns. "A year and a half ago, I was naïve. Big headed. Thought I was going to do what I wanted to do. But here it gave me structure. It made me want more. It made me strive for something better for myself."