Gov. Crist honors Land O’ Lakes High 11th-grader for work with Habitat for Humanity
By Ashley Dunn
DADE CITY — In 2006, Matt Mooney set a goal to collect and recycle enough aluminum cans to build a house for a needy family through East Pasco Habitat for Humanity.
Three years later, Matt, 16, has collected more than 1 million cans — about a quarter of what he needs — and he has no plans to slow down.
“It’s just for a good cause so it’s a good thing to stick with,” said Matt, who lives in Dade City and is an 11th-grader in the International Baccalaureate program at Land O’ Lakes High.
On Oct. 7, Matt received the top prize from Gov. Charlie Crist’s Serve to Preserve: Green Schools Awards program, which recognized the environmental achievements of students, teachers, classrooms, schools and school districts. Matt was the student winner and received $1,500. More than 100 nominations were received in all.
Matt became involved with Habitat when he was in eighth grade, after a house was dedicated to a friend on his baseball team.
“Everyone’s pretty emotional because they’ve worked so hard… so they’re just really humble and appreciative,” Matt said of what it’s like to be at dedication ceremony. “Just everyone is really into the whole program.”
Matt decided then that he wanted to help Habitat, but at the time he was too young to help build a home. His parents, Wayne and Jane Mooney, had done volunteer work for Habitat and knew of a program called Cans for Habitat, a national partnership between Habitat for Humanity International and the Aluminum Association.
Matt and his parents began scouring their Lake Jovita neighborhood for cans. Several homes were under construction, and the family found that workers drank lots of canned beverages and left the empty containers at the construction sites.
Over time, word spread that Matt was collecting cans. Now, fire stations, golf courses, baseball fields, churches, businesses and the Wal-Mart distribution center in Brooksville are collecting cans for him. Businesses and other organizations can request that a small can house or box be placed at their offices, and the Mooney’s come pick up the cans left inside. Neighbors have also joined in the collection, adding to Matt’s tally. Lake Jovita sends out a homeowner’s newsletter, and it includes “Matt’s Can Count,” a section on how many cans Matt has collected.
“People want to recycle,” Wayne Mooney said. “If they’ve got a reason to recycle, then they’ll do it.”
When Matt began the project, 34 cans, or one pound of aluminum, were worth between 55 and 60 cents — about the cost of a nail. Now that the price of aluminum has dropped, the same amount of cans is worth 35 cents. That means the Mooney’s have to collect even more cans.
“We’re going to have to rally here,” Wayne Mooney said.
They’re hoping groups or individuals will be willing to save their cans for Matt. They’ll even provide the boxes and liners or the can houses.
“If communities, golf courses, trailer parks, businesses, etc. want to embrace the recycling of aluminum cans, and the recycling of building homes, and the recycling of families that may need a second chance just by collecting aluminum cans that they would ordinarily throw out, please have them call me on my cell phone (352-467-9808),” Wayne Mooney said. “Matt and I will come and pick them up and turn them into a home for a deserving family.”
As of Sept. 20, Matt had collected 1,006,379 cans or 29,853 pounds of aluminum. That equals $13,897.60 for Habitat.
“Matt has really been a force unto himself — he and his family,” said John Finnerty, executive director of East Pasco Habitat for Humanity. “… Matt’s very goal oriented… He’s just done an outstanding job for us.”
The Mooney’s have spent countless hours on the project, and Jane Mooney said she thinks Matt’s commitment to his goal is commendable.
“It’s pretty special,” she said. “I’m very proud of him. He could be doing a lot of other things with his time, but it’s good to see him working on this type of goal.”
When he’s not collecting cans Matt plays golf and baseball for Land O’ Lakes High. After he graduates, he said he hopes to go Stanford University and study medicine. He’s thinking about becoming an endocrinologist.
Right now though, Matt’s focused on the cans and what they mean for Habitat. Generally quiet, he perked up when he thought about being able to build a home solely from the proceeds generated by recycling the cans.
“It would be pretty amazing,” he said, “and it would just show that a lot of hard work for me and my dad would pay off and help a family in need.”
How to help
The Mooney family is willing to pick up aluminum cans wherever they can get them. Call Wayne Mooney at (352) 467-9808.
The Mooney’s take the cans they collect to Pasco Recycling Inc., 15641 US 301 in Dade City. If you recycle your aluminum cans there already and want the proceeds to go to Habitat, let them know and they’ll donate the money.
For more information about East Pasco Habitat for Humanity or Cans for Habitat, visit www.ephabitat.org.