Building a Dream

Building a Dream:

Mr. Anderson reflects on empowering high school students to learn invaluable skills while changing lives

Mark Anderson and his students stand in front of the wall panels they built for a Habitat house in 2016

By Mark Anderson, Construction Teacher at Guilford High School

Three years ago, Habitat started impacting lives in a brand-new way.

I was being forced to go to an after-school meeting downtown.  Two major issues: I hate meetings and I really did not want to give up my night for one.  A million thoughts went through my head of how to get out of it.  Should I be sick???  Should I just somehow forget about it???  Maybe I had to watch my kids that night??? Or just tell them no???  It was the first year of Academies and I was the EMITT (Engineering, Manufacturing, Industrial and Trades Technology) leader at Guilford, so I eventually concluded I would have to go and waste a few hours of my life.  It must have been divine intervention because Keri Nelson (Executive Director of Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity) was also giving up her night to be at this meeting. (Don’t tell her but I think she likes meetings J ).  I still remember like it was yesterday— after it was over, I got in my car and called Guilford’s academy coach. “You won’t believe me but this was the best meeting ever and I volunteered us to build a house for Habitat.”  Never mind the fact that we did not have a construction program at Guilford or a space to make walls; we were going to do this.

We started a program, got a room, filled it with tools, got enough students to sign up for two sections and built a huge table to make wall panels on.  We learned how to read blue prints, layout walls and built all the walls for one entire house in our shop.  After all the walls were made, we carried them one at a time all the way from one end of Guilford to the opposite end and put the house together in the field house. By the way, many of the walls weighed several hundred pounds.  To my surprise, we had only one mistake: we sheathed the wrong side of one wall panel.  One quick fix later the house was all together in the middle of a basketball court. It was a sight to be seen but it was only the beginning of our journey.

Keri and I decided the next year, we were going to build a house on site. A dream come true for me. Then Keri dropped the bomb on me: “Would you mind doing a two-story?” My response was, “No problem.” What did I just agree to?  I have never built any house from bottom up and now I am agreeing to a two-story. Dumb, dumb, dumb.  I was told by a few people it’s just like building a ranch on top of a ranch. I now know they were not telling me the truth.

As of today, we built the walls at Guilford, raised the first floor on site, installed the joists, raised the second floor, built a stair case, pulled wire, insulated the outside and inside, hung doors and windows and are close to being done with hanging drywall.  It has been an amazing ride but my favorite part is listening to the students.  The best quote of the year: “This has been my biggest accomplishment of my life.”  One day a neighbor brought us cookies and hot chocolate and told the guys she was amazed at what they have made for the neighborhood.  After she was gone, the group of guys said they felt like they were in a movie because never in their lives has a strange adult told them thank you for anything.  Every day there is a pair of daycare ladies that walk by at 10:30 with kids and constantly tell us what a great job we are doing and how they are always excited to see our progress.

To wrap it up, Habitat, RPS205 and the family that is buying the house have done more for this small group of students than we could have ever imagined.  We have given them a sense of pride that many of them have never felt and this opportunity is leading to jobs for many of the seniors.  One is going into roofing this summer, another has a job working with a construction outfit in Wisconsin and I have been contacted from a local guy about wanting to hire two students this summer after they graduate.  One surprise is how some of the kids like working with the older men. They love hearing their stories and they always talk about what Ted said today J.  Justin, the homebuyer, has also been amazing. He tells the kids about his life and how they are making a dream come true— they are making it possible for him to provide a house his kids.  We are not only affecting their high school years but, in fact, we are all changing many of these students’ lives forever.

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