Rockford Habitat for Humanity Builds Futures

By Christina Magee, College & Career Academy Coach at Guilford High School

Angela Diep, Guilford High School alumni

Habitat for Humanity is known for building houses which clients turn into homes that nurture the futures of its residents.  But in Rockford, Illinois, Habitat for Humanity is building not just its clients’ futures, but also the futures of high school students.

In partnership with the Rockford Public Schools, Production Academy students from Guilford and East High Schools take their education off campus to a Habitat build site.  Once on site, these high school students start with a cement slab and begin building the groundwork for their future careers.  All school year, students frame, drywall and tile, install electrical, plumbing and flooring until the house is finished. 

“The best part of the experience is getting to see the house we built become a home for a family we worked side by side with” expresses Angela Diep, Guilford High School alumni. 

Just like a house must start with a foundation, Angela’s construction education began back at Guilford High School in the foundation class, Introduction to Industrial Technology.  As a freshman, Angela discovered her love for woodworking and was excited to know that someday she could go off campus and build a house. 

“I thought that it was a great opportunity for me and would be cool to interact with teachers and students in a different way than we normally would in regular classes, and I was right!” she said.

Angela is currently enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign pursuing a degree in architecture.  While at Guilford High School, Angela had the opportunity to participate in the Habitat for Humanity off campus build project both her junior and senior years. 

“Building houses in high school allowed me to have a different perspective than other architecture students.  I’ve gotten to see how things work in the construction process and understand things that may seem complicated from a construction point of view such as wrong measurements, odd wall placements or no structural support. I’ve also seen how to utilize all areas in the house for maximum space usage,” she said. “Bringing up the fact that I’ve been able to build these houses has helped me build connections with my architecture professor and woodshop advisor, which could possibly open up many more opportunities for me in the future.” 

Beyond specific building skills, this experience has allowed Angela to grow as a leader.   

“During my time building the Habitat houses, I’ve also gotten some experience in being a leader. Mr. Anderson (Guilford’s Construction Teacher) allowed me to be in charge of the other students and trusted me to get work done. I know I can always ask for help and feedback from Mr. Anderson and the Habitat volunteers that I’ve gotten to know from the build,” she said.

Most importantly, having this experience has solidified Angela’s passion for giving back. 

“Volunteering has also become important to me, so I try to help the community whenever possible,” Angela said. “This year I’m a part of a volunteer organization that builds furniture for places that really need it. Our project right now is for a space that students go to when they need a safe place to do homework or stay after school. Our goal is to make it a comfortable and vibrant place with the hopes that the students get excited to go to it.”

Angela is just one of many Guilford High School students who have built their future career paths around the experiences they have gained on the Habitat for Humanity build site.  When asked about her most meaningful experience from her time in Guilford’s Construction Pathway Angela said, “Seeing families get the thing they have worked so hard for was the most rewarding feeling.” 

Habitat for Humanity is changing lives for so many in our community…. Guilford High School students included!