Madison High students work on Habitat for Humanity build

Project provides real-world experience for students in Building Trades program

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published February 10, 2016

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MADISON HEIGHTS — During their 2014-15 Women Build in Madison Heights, Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County members found themselves working with volunteer students from Madison Preparatory Academy, a collaboration that came about by chance when HfHOC asked to use Madison Prep’s parking lot and facilities for its volunteers.

Now, in 2016, more Madison district students are at work on a new Habitat build. This time it’s the students from the Building Trades program at Madison High School, which provides certification in the construction trades upon graduation.

Since the fall, they’ve been working on a Habitat rehab in the 25000 block of Miracle Street, which began work in the summer with volunteers from Bank of America. Around 20 students have been visiting the site twice a week, on average. They built a shed from the ground up, signing it with their names, and went on to install flooring and various fixtures. They’re supervised by their teacher and longtime Habitat collaborator

Pete Dalton, whose expertise in home construction allows HfHOC to free up site supervisors for other builds.

“Students in the Building Trades program learn different skills that are needed for home construction and other construction trades, and partnering with Habitat for Humanity gives them real on-the-job experience of working on a house in that situation,” said Madison High

Principal David Hurnevich. “We can do our best to replicate that experience in the school setting, but there’s nothing like going to an actual construction site and being able to work on that building in person.”

He also noted that some past students in the Building Trades program went to college to study construction management, where the field experience also proved useful in knowing how a construction project truly works.

The homeowner of the Habitat rehab is Lori VanWormer, 46, a single parent with two teens, one of them autistic. She is also helping her dad take care of her mother. These challenges make it difficult for her to maintain full-time work hours, but she’s put in the time earning her sweat equity hours for the Habitat build. The organization’s motto is “A hand up, not a handout,” and VanWormer went above and beyond the expected 300 hours, contributing more than 2,000 hours of sweat equity.

“She has community spirit,” said Elizabeth Wyss, development associate for HfHOC.

VanWormer was originally looking for a home in the area of Lake Orion, Clarkston or Waterford, but fell in love with the neighborhood in Madison Heights where she found the home now being rehabbed. The three-bedroom, one-bathroom home has a large backyard and will feature a new furnace and water heater, as well as new flooring, fixtures, windows and more. It’s a complete update made for bleeding-edge energy efficiency.

It will be a huge improvement over her previous situation, where she struggled to afford the rent in a home that suffered from black mold, among other problems, with a landlord who continually neglected her family’s needs. The rehab is expected to be finished this spring.

Wyss said the experience has brought out the best in the students on both occasions.

“When working with the students from Madison Prep, we saw amazing growth even that day from students who came in a bit timid with the process, but by the end you saw square shoulders and ownership of the project,” Wyss recalled. “There were parents who called the board and said they were pleased with their kids who came home that day.

“And the kids in the Building Trades program have been super respectful, following the process all the way through,” she continued. “They have an amazing lab at their school with lots of hands-on tools, so they brought that experience to the build. You can see that they get it — and they’re proud of the work that they did.”