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Countries of Cardboard

Before giving his nod of final approval, White City sixth-grader William Ferrario circled his group's cardboard house Saturday in front of Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity with a tilted head and his hands on his hips, occasionally kneeling to make adjustments before brushing off to lobby for votes.

His favorite aspect of the house — modeled after one that might be found in a rural Chinese village — was a yin-yang symbol he and his classmates plastered above the front door of the playhouse-sized structure.

"I like the bamboo roof ... but I think I like the yin-yang sign more. I think it symbolizes poverty and wealthiness."

About 40 youths Saturday participated in Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity's fourth annual Cardboard City fundraising event, where groups had two and a half hours to construct the best culturally specific dwelling they could from a pile of old cardboard boxes.

Four groups, representing White Mountain Middle School, Eagle Point High School's Interact Club and Medford's Ascension Lutheran Church, competed in the event, which helps raise money for Habitat for Humanity's home improvement efforts and provides an opportunity to educate local youths about worldwide poverty and substandard living conditions, said Tiffany Schmelzer, the organization's development director.

"We put a pile of cardboard in front of them and a few extra supplies ... and they get very creative," she said. "They can go as big or as little as they choose, it just has to represent a country."

This year, Ethiopia, China, Madagascar and Vietnam were chosen, and the event raised a little more than $1,400, Schmelzer said.

Student groups who sign up are notified ahead of the event which country their team will be representing, and they are expected to research their assigned nation's living conditions before the competition.

The money raised Saturday will go toward construction of a roughly1,400-square-foot house for a single Medford mother and her four children on Cummings Lane, Schmelzer said.

Community members attending the event purchased $1 vote tickets and voted for their favorite houses.

"It's such a great time," said Kym Angulo, whose daughter is part of Janean Nodine's sixth-grade class at White Mountain Middle School. "If it weren't for Miss Nodine, the kids wouldn't have been able to do this today, and they've had so much fun."

Sofia Angulo, a sixth-grader at White Mountain who was a part of the winning group, said she wasn't sure how the group's cardboard house on stilts — made to replicate a Vietnamese dwelling — would turn out, but she was happy with the final product.

"It was pretty hard, because we had to figure out how the floor was going to stay up," she said. "It turned out pretty much how we wanted."

The house featured a bamboo-like roof made from crinkled pieces of paper, a pond and boat off the front porch, and a door mat reading "chào đón," — Vietnamese for welcome. A cardboard outhouse was constructed nearby.

A second group of sixth-graders from White Mountain Middle School, representing China, didn't fare as well, missing the top three by a few votes.

Ascension Lutheran Church member Sarah Bradley, an eighth-grader at Hedrick Middle School, said she was happy with the Madagascan home her group built.

"And with 40 minutes to spare," added her twin sister, Molly Bradley.

The house was accompanied by a small fruit stand, from which the group handed out cardboard cutouts of bananas, mangos and apples with facts about the country written on them.

The competition was a good experience overall, said JimmiLynn Melson, who was a part of the winning White Mountain Middle School group.

Melson's group won a Rogue River rafting trip donated by Rogue Wilderness Adventures as the top prize, though every group walked away with something for participating in the fundraiser, Schmelzer said.

Cardboard City isn't the most lucrative fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity, Schmelzer said, but it helps open the eyes of youths to poverty outside Southern Oregon.

And it's one of the most fun to watch grow, she said.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.

Ascension Lutheran Church youth group members, from left, Darbi Sumption, 13, Molly Bradley, 13, and Jolisa Cruz, 12, play in part of the Madagascar home they built during Cardboard City Saturday at Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity in Medford. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore