Fifteen Cliff Park students will be providing most of the labor on the six- to eight-month project funded by Habitat. The result will be a renovated home for a deserving family, a deteriorating uninhabited home reclaimed for the community by volunteers, and growth for those volunteers who are dedicated to redirecting their lives and learning an employable trade in the process.
“We’re excited for the partnership,” said Brian Ray, Habitat’s Director of Springfield Operations. “It’s a good opportunity for the students to hone their construction skills, and it benefits our mission. I hope we can make this a long-term relationship.”
The Springfield alternative school has been around since 2000, but was more recently renamed Cliff Park. It currently has 233 students and offers education tracks in not just construction, but also healthcare, customer care and Microsoft Office (in conjunction with Assurant). Plans are in the works to possibly add a manufacturing track this fall. The subjects are offered to help fill specific community employment needs, with the ultimate goal of keeping talented labor in the county.
“It’s a great opportunity to pair with a community partner that does a lot of good in the city,” said Cliff Park Director Jeff Waechter. “We want to support the community as much as we can. It’s a win-win situation. The students learn valuable skills they can use to make a living. And anytime you find a partner like Habitat, you can make it easier for them and they can make it easier for us.”
Construction teacher Matt Bandy is excited about Cliff Park’s first project with Habitat. Prior to coming to Cliff Park, he owned a construction business and built 127 homes during his career. Now he’s using his skills to make a difference in young lives, not just in the community housing stock.
“College is not for everyone,” Bandy said. “A lot of our kids are underprivileged with unique challenges. But if you complete this course, you’ve got the knowledge, you’ve got the work clothes and you’ve got the tools. It is totally free to our students. You’ve got all you need to get a job and make a good living. You just have to put them to use.”
Cliff Park is a member of the National Center for Construction and Education Research. It is coast to coast and awards students with a pre-apprentice certification so they can go anywhere in the U.S. and have the skills to find a good job or take their education higher. So hands-on experience, which has been very difficult to get during the pandemic, is very integral.
“My students have been looking forward to this for so long, to get out there and do some things on job sites,” Bandy said. “On this house, they are going to get to do everything. That makes it a really good job for them. We’re not just rehabbing this house, we’re taking 900 square feet of it to the ground and then rebuilding part of it.”
The project is still in the early stages. But the students are already working hard.
“Demo is no fun; it is dirty and dusty. But they went in there in four 5½-hour days and took down all the old drywall,” Bandy said. “Then it only took them another four days to get everything in the dumpster.”
Josh Sands, who lives in the Graham Local District in St. Paris, has been in the program three years. He feels what he is learning is worth the extra miles driven to and from home.
“I don’t learn well in the classroom. I like stuff I can do with my hands,” he said. “I’ve done things with my youth group at church and on mission trips, but this is learning a skill that I can turn into a trade. We have a lot of good times working together. It’s a teamwork atmosphere.”
Cliff Park added a $1 million addition three years ago, which has allowed it to expand its offerings to students. The construction track is one of those new tracks, complete with its own in-school workshop where the students can do special projects.
“We are going to jump back into our shop and actually build some parts for the home, like the doors and cabinets,” he said. “We’re doing custom pillars for the porch for this house. It’s a source of pride. It puts our personal stamp on it. Few programs offer that. We can do everything.”
Priscilla Carpenter of Springfield has lived on the block where the project house is most of her life, and most of the neighborhood through the years has been family members. To see a home that had deteriorated that once housed loved ones get this special treatment is special to her.
“It’s been a devastation for me,” she said. “For it to get new life, it just means so much. It’s a rebirth now, a piece of family lore (preserved). I can’t tell you how much that means to me.”