Teens help build Habitat house as part of summer course

Teens help build Habitat house as part of summer course

CHAMPAIGN — It's one thing to build a house and be able to walk by for years, knowing you helped put it there.

But when it's a house for a good cause, that feeling is magnified.

Local high school students in a summer construction program are not only learning skills that might be useful for future careers, but they're also building a house with Habitat for Humanity.

Fifteen students are participating this year, and the program puts a special emphasis on including minority and female students, said Lorie McDonald, who coordinates the program for Education for Employment System 330.

They earn a $500 stipend, but also valuable experience and knowledge about construction, the local building trades and what it takes to be a good employee. Plus, there's the benefit of working for a good cause.

John Weatherall, a 16-year-old who attends Central High School, said he likes learning new skills but finds the most value in "the feeling that you're helping someone."

The program is paid for mostly through local funding, McDonald said, including donations from the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois, local developers, trade organizations and unions and more.

This is the program's fifth year, but it's the first time students are building an actual house.

The house, at the corner of Goodwin Avenue and Beech Street in Urbana, is being built for Habitat for Humanity.

Executive Director Shelia Dodd said Habitat has worked with the Education for Employment summer class before, but this is the first time it's worked out to have students start building a house.

Dodd said Habitat hires someone to put in the foundation, but the high schoolers have put up walls, installed windows and doors, added trusses, will put on a roof and may even get as far as putting on siding during their five-week class this summer.

Alex Ramirez, who's also a career and technical education teacher at Central High School, is teaching the class this summer with Phil Durland, who is the building trades teacher at Villa Grove High School.

Ramirez said building a house, rather than a garage or shed as in previous years, gives students more space to work, and a more complex structure to learn on. Durland said it's nice to be able to work with students for five hours a day, rather than just a couple.

A shed may have one window, Ramirez said, but a house has many more. Plus, all the students can work at the same time on a house, rather than having them take turns working on a smaller structure.

"It's different to walk past a house and know you had a part in building it," Ramirez said.

Plus, the Habitat homeowner has visited the students working and thanked them for their help.

Ramirez said students who want to apply for the class are taught how to interview and write resumes, and go through a stringent application process. The idea is to prepare them for a similar situation in the workplace.

They aren't required to have any knowledge about construction when they start, but Ramirez said that many, by the end, are considering careers in some related trade.

Or, they learn that they might work construction to make money in the summer during college, or consider it as a backup plan once they're adults.

The students also earn their Occupational Safety and Health Administration 10-hour construction card, and learn all about safety, which Ramirez emphasizes as the most important lesson to be learned.

"If you're not safe, no one wants you on the job," he said.

He said learning how to build things is a confidence-builder for students, and he and Durland teach students how to correct their mistakes.

"What we do here has to be done right, because people are going to live in" the house, Ramirez said.

For 16-year-old Joshua Johnson, who attends Central High School, the class has meant learning about construction, starting with the basics.

He now knows how to use a measuring tape, which he considers particularly important.

"It's all about measuring," he said.

A particular challenge was learning how to drive a nail, but he's had plenty of practice to get it right.

"I'm good at it now," Johnson said.

Isaac Butts, who took Ramirez's classes at Central, said building an actual house is different from the class at school because there's no space limitations.

This summer, he'll learn how to build a roof, which was never possible at Central.

He said he's wanted to work in construction since he was 13.

"This is a good opportunity for me to go out and do construction work," Butts said.

Dodd said the students won't have enough time to finish the house but are invited to come back and work on it as Habitat for Humanity volunteers.

She said she's hoping Habitat and the Education for Employment summer construction program can work together on more houses in the future.