The toy department of a busy retail store seems an unlikely place for a college exam, but 11 young men in VHCC’s welding program said they completed one of their most important tests of the semester there.

With $325 of cash they contributed themselves – money earned by delivering pizzas or saved by downsizing fast food meals in recent days– they purchased a cart full of Christmas gifts for two boys they’ve never met. They worked together, considering a wide variety of choices, then discussing the options before making their final selections. The football and puzzles will be given away, but those involved in the shopping spree agreed they will each keep something for themselves – a sense of brotherhood they didn’t have when they entered the classroom as strangers a few short months ago.

“We’ve learned to be more than good welders,” one student said. “We’ve learned to be good people. This class has made a better man of me.”

The students have now made it half way through a two-semester program that leads to a Career Studies Certificate in welding. They’re proud of the technical skills they’ve gained and the friendships they’ve earned. “I don’t think there’s been a harsh word between any of us all semester,” one student commented. “We always have each other’s backs. We’ve talked a lot about working as a team.”

Although much of the class time is spent in the welding booths learning the fundamental skills of fusing two metals together, Instructor Eddie Fultz makes sure his students also understand the importance of a strong work ethic, the need to communicate and work together, the value in helping others.

These lessons are important in the classroom, he said, and will become even more important after graduation. He recently ended a class session by encouraging students to be grateful for what they have and to “pay it forward” whenever possible.

Rather than filing the information away for another day, the students seized the opportunity to take immediate action.

Through a friend of a friend, they learned about a local family in need. They discussed the situation and together agreed they could help by providing Christmas gifts for the two young boys who had just lost their father. They reached out to the mother, began making a list, and then pooled their resources. They didn’t discuss who gave what and agreed not to even mention their individual names. Instead, they refer to themselves as The Brotherhood of VHCC ­­­Welders – just 11 college students who scraped together what they could to make the season brighter for a couple of kids.

After all, someone once said, “It’s better to give than to receive.”

“Yes, that’s true,” one of the students said. “It just makes you feel good.”