LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – Some Lake County High Schools offer a program to provide experiential learning and introduce students to the field of construction.
What You Need To Know
Program in Lake County teaches high school students about constructions
Students help build homes and learn life skills
The program is in partnership with Habitat for Humanity
This class teaches students the basics of building, while also picking up life skills.
It’s graduation season, and some students are spending it helping create a home for a Lake County couple.
“It’s happy, it’s a feeling of joy because you get to give people the keys for them to start their life,” said Aaron Dudhnath, a senior at South Lake High School.
Twelve South Lake High School students, including senior Dudhnath, built this home as part of the Youth Construction Academy program.
“Day by day, kind of see the house come from the bottom and up is a very great thing to see happen. Especially us, we’re young and to get in there and get that experience is great,” Dudhnath said.
Their instructor believes the partnership with Habitat for Humanity will provide the students with a strong foundation.
“Whether you want to be in construction or not, all these are valuable skills you’re going to learn. Instead of maybe coming out and paying someone to fix something simple, you’re able to take care of it yourself,” said Jared Fullerton, the Construction Academy Teacher at South Lake High School.
Being at the work site came with many benefits and experiences.
“Hanging a door, putting in cabinets, installing flooring, that’s not stuff we can really do in the classroom,” Fullerton said.
At the start of the 2020 fall semester, the Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter in partnership with a hand-selected group of students from South Lake High School broke ground and began construction of a new home. Through all kinds of weather and a pandemic, the group completed the home in less than a year.
Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter started the Youth Construction Academy, partnering with high school construction students. The vocational program, began approximately 3 years ago to introduce students to the field of construction. Students graduate the program with access and opportunity for internships and employment.
On Friday, May 7, a dedication ceremony was held at the newly constructed home in Mascotte. Construction Program Head Jarod Fullerton and his Groveland High School construction students Ernesto Lea, Aaron Dudhnath, Samuel Smrekan, Jonathon Cherry, Christopher Sherman, Nakoma Payne, Georgia Turner, Hayley Kintner, Dayton Driggers, Alexander Valentine, Jacob Willis, Elizabeth Singh, Jacob Myrland, were recognized and asked to present the keys to the house to new homeowners Mark and Mindy Owen.
Habitat has plans to build a total of four homes in that one block on Thomas Street in Mascotte, one house a year, in cooperation with the advanced construction students of South Lake High.
There has been a construction program at South Lake for well over 20 years. The program was revitalized through a workforce grant. Program head Jared Fullerton is himself a graduate of South Lake, where he was a construction student. Fullerton says he was 18 when he took part in building his first home. After graduating from South Lake in 2001 and spending two years studying at Lake-Sumter State College, he went on to earn a degree in Building Construction from the University of Florida. He worked several years in the industry and now has returned to South Lake High School, home of the Eagles, to reenergize the construction program for a new generation of students.
Instructor Bruce Haberle congratulates students with The Villages High School’s Construction Management Academy for helping build a new home in Lady Lake for Amanda Brooks and her daughter, Emilee Carter. Rachel Stuart, Daily Sun
Most families aim to build success and raise their standard of living so their children can have better lives. But, this isn’t feasible for everyone without help. Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter and the Construction Management Academy of The Villages High School work together to give some of these families a boost when it comes to their homes, a measure of success for many families. Habitat and the academy recently completed a yearlong project to build a home for the Brooks family and handed over the keys to their new home Wednesday.
To Amanda Brooks, a working, single parent whose family received the house, the students’ drive and efforts were impressive and something for which she always will be grateful.
“The students are amazing,” she said. “I know they don’t realize it but they have completely changed my life.”
After years of trying to obtain a home, Brooks and her daughter, Emilee, received the keys to their new home with tears of joy. Brooks applied to the program at The Villages Charter School and, through a selection process, was chosen out of the top five applicants.
“I remember exactly where I was when I received the call from Habitat,” Brooks said. “I was at work, and I took the call and I wanted to jump up and down and cry in excitement.”
She said she then contacted everyone that knew she had applied.
“My family is so proud of the woman, mother, daughter I’ve become,” she said. “They can’t wait to come visit my new home.”
Brooks has spent the year keeping herself steady at work and volunteering over 200 hours of “sweat equity” for Habitat for Humanity.
The construction students even planned a surprise for Emilee: a bright pink playhouse for her to enjoy in her new backyard. Art students lent their artistic abilities to add characters from Disney movies to the decor. Emilee smiled as she ducked through the door labeled “Emilee’s Playhouse.”
Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter dedicates three new homes built by
High School Students
Students from Leesburg High, South Lake High, and the Villages Charter High School graduate from the Youth Construction Academy and give the keys to the future homeowners.
Lake County, FL – Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter in partnership with Leesburg High School, South Lake High School, and the Villages Charter High School have built three new homes as part of a vocational education program, the Youth Construction Academy.
Leesburg High School will honor the students who built a home in Leesburg, Florida on Friday, April 30th.
The Villages Charter High School will honor the students who built a home in Lady Lake, Florida on Wednesday, May 5th
South Lake High School will honor the students who built a home in Mascotte, Florida on Friday, May 7th.
Habitat’s Youth Construction Academy, through the partnership of select High Schools, is a vocational program designed to provide experiential learning and introduce students to the field of construction. Students graduate the program with access and opportunity for internships and employment.
Construction of each home began at the start of the Fall semester last year and continued through April 2021. The students and teachers will be included in the dedication ceremony as we hand over the keys to the families selected through Habitat’s Home Ownership program.
The dedication ceremonies are open to the public and media is invited to attend. For location details and to RSVP, please contact Shari at Shari@HabitatLS.org.
WHAT: Habitat for Humanity and Leesburg High, South Lake High, and The Villages Charter High School’s Youth Construction Academy
WHEN: Friday, April 30th from 12:00PM- 2:00PM (Leesburg Location)
About Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, Florida
Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, Florida has been your local Hometown Habitat serving individuals in Lake and Sumter Counties with access and opportunity to affordable housing solutions since 1989. As an affiliate of Habitat International we empower local families to achieve strength, stability, and self-reliance through shelter and are united by a shared vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live.
For the Smith Family, Habitat for Humanity has given them more than just a home
“Habitat for Humanity symbolizes hope for people to keep pushing in life,” said Otto Smith.
Jessica Smith and her 13 year-old-son, Otto, spend their time with each other, optimistic about a place that they can call home. Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter has made that possible for them.
Jessica Smith works as an assistant at an oral surgery clinic, and Otto is in the 8th grade. Their family has lived in the area for 34 years. The surrounding neighborhood is a special place for Otto and Jessica, as their new home will be very close to Jessica’s work and Otto’s school, and their church is only a short distance away. The Smiths plan to host family game nights, church gatherings, and holiday get togethers once the home is complete. “There will be many memories made there. We can’t wait for our monthly game nights.” Jessica said.
The Smiths are looking forward to simple memories from family meals to individual spaces in their new home. “I am so excited to have a kitchen to call our own to cook and eat meals together” Jessica Smith, future homeowner said. “Otto and I are very excited to have our own rooms.”
Habitat for Humanity makes it possible for families to live in a beautiful home on an affordable mortgage. No more than 30 percent of a person’s income is spent on housing with Habitat for Humanity. This allows families like the Smiths to use that money for other expenses such as groceries or education. “We have moved about 14 or 15 times, but I am really excited to have a place that we can finally call home,” said Jessica.
Their new home is being built through the Youth Construction Academy program where high school students gain hands-on experience during their school day building homes, while also getting school credit. The Smith family’s journey with Habitat for Humanity has been gratifying and exciting. Family and friends also come to help with the construction of the home. “They have done a lot for us. We started out at rock bottom,” said Otto. “Every day it seems like there is a new spark of hope for us. It brings us so much joy to see the community coming together to build this home.”
Their home is well underway with the frame almost complete. The Smiths have expressed great thanks and enthusiasm for this project, and they are both ready for the day when they finally have a place to call home.
Students from the Leesburg High School Construction Academy work on constructing a home for Habitat for Humanity in Leesburg. [Cindy Peterson/Correspondent] Cindy Peterson
For most people, 2020 has been a year of heartache, fear, and anxiety with little to smile about. We are all exhausted from the COVID-19 pandemic, the bitterness from the presidential election, and a hurricane season that never wanted to end.
Despite all the turmoil through the fall, a group of local young people have been working hard doing good work for their community while preparing themselves for a future with a respectable job in the construction industry. Since September, each week students from The Villages Charter High School Construction Management Academy and the Leesburg High School Construction Academy have been working on jobsites building homes for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.
These students are doing so while trying to combine virtual learning, wearing a mask, and following COVID-19 pandemic guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The students in The Villages Charter High School Construction Management Academy are working in two shifts on their project on Ann Street in Lady Lake. Under the direction of their instructor Bruce Haberle and Habitat for Humanity Project Manager Barry Martin, these students have constructed a home with little help. The walls and roof are up, and it is dried in.
The project is being done with the highest of craftmanship and the jobsite is neat and clean. However, the students are what make this project so special. Polite, hard workers who want to make a difference in the life of this homeowner. This something to smile about.
On Grove Street in Leesburg, the Leesburg High School Construction Academy students are building their Habitat for Humanity house on a beautiful corner lot just one block from the water. This home is being constructed with the highest of quality and the members of the “Dream Team” are working hard to understand every aspect of construction. Jobsite mentors have been instrumental in providing real world direction and all are motivated by the homeowner who has worked side by side with the students.
The Villages High School seniors Brock Esarey, left, Hayden Fink, center, and Tyler McLean help build a playhouse as part of the Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter’s Jingle Build Off 2020. Bill Mitchell, Daily Sun
The Villages High School’s Construction Management Academy will make Christmas a little brighter for the child who receives a playhouse the students built. Students participated Nov. 10 in the Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter Jingle Build-Off competition. The academy is one of the five teams entered so far, said Lacie Himes, associate development director for the Habitat Lake-Sumter. Teams may still enter Jingle Build until Monday for the best playhouse. The public may judge it online this year Dec. 5-10 at habitatls.org/jingle-build-off. Construction Management Academy teacher Bruce Haberle said he hopes students not only learned construction skills by building the playhouse, but also about giving to the community and to people who are less fortunate. Last year, the academy was one of eight teams that built 10 playhouses on site for Habitat’s Christmas Village in Tavares. This year will offer a Virtual Christmas Village. Teams have the option to build their playhouses at their own sites or on site.
The recipients of the home, Jessica Smith and her son, Otto, are introduced to the Leesburg High School Construction Academy who will be building the home for the Habitat for Humanity project in Leesburg on Monday Sept. 21 [Cindy Peterson/Correspondent] Cindy Peterson
LEESBURG — Red Apples Media premiered Habitat Academy Season 2 Friday, documenting the start of another year’s home-building project by students at Leesburg High and volunteers with Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter.
The Nov. 13 premiere showcased the new project to be built by 14 Leesburg High School students — known as the Dream Team — and the family who will benefit from their work. This season debuted a full month earlier than the first season, which initially aired its first episode on December 16, 2019.
The new season of the show includes updated graphics and an opening video which features clips of students working. As before, it’s hosted by the CEO of RoMac Building Supply, Don Magruder. RoMac is one of the show’s sponsors, and Magruder has been involved as a community advisor for the Leesburg High School Construction Academy for the past few years.
This season of Habitat Academy is starting off with extra ambition, and the benefit of partnerships and knowledge developed over the course of last year’s production.
“The house gets built at the rate that the house gets built,” Robertz-Schwartz said.
Season one was a couple episodes short of its projected run due to the rate the house reached its milestones, Robertz-Schwartz said. They couldn’t ask the construction team to hold off on a milestone for filming, for instance, so it was hard to capture every planned moment.
Still, with that experience under their belt, Red Apples is going in for a longer season this year.
Meet Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter’s newest partner, Munn’s Air-Conditioning and Heating.
Munn’s has a trusted reputation as a locally owned and operated Heating and Air-Conditioning company and has been in business for more than FIFTY years! Munn’s knows about the importance of a job well-done, that’s why they are investing in the next generation of Youth Construction Academy students by sponsoring The Villages Charter High School’s latest new home construction project. Not only is Munn’s supporting the build but they’ll offering expertise and HVAC training to the students.
Munn’s is generously partnering with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter by sponsoring the Youth Construction Academy home and they’ll help us kick-off the season of giving by matching every donation made in December!
Joshua Fulwider, left, Abigail Stewart, center, and Jakobe Zick bring in a roof truss to be raised on a home being built for Habitat for Humanity Lake Sumter on Oct. 12 on Ann Street in Lady Lake.
George Horsford, Daily Sun
The Villages High School seniors in the Construction Management Academy are back at work building a third home for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.
“It’s a great learning experience,” said student Jace Gray, 17.
“I’ve learned so much about a house I never would have learned in any other place — so much more respect for a house,” student Abigail Stewart, 17, said.
They carried and placed roof trusses in place on the house they are building in Lady Lake for a single mother with a daughter. Last March, students were almost done building another house for Habitat when spring break was extended in an effort to thwart the spread of COVID-19. Then the state closed schools for the rest of the year while students learned online.
On Emilee’s birthday last year, her dreams came true when she accompanied Rey on an adventure to find Chewbacca in a small trading post in Batuu. Walking side by side with her hero, Emilee is strong with the force, and with a mom like Amanda, it’s not hard to see where she gets it from. Now, thanks to Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter’s Youth Construction Academy and Habitat’s newest partner, Munn’s Air Conditioning & Heating, both mother and daughter will find a new happily ever after with their dream home.
Like their favorite Star Wars heroes, Amanda Brooks and her daughter Emilee know how to use their powers for good. Having volunteered recently with Habitat Lake-Sumter, Amanda is excited to play the role of mentor for both Emilee and students who will be building her dream home. She hopes that the Villages Charter High School students feel accomplished building her and Emilee’s future home, learning strong foundational principles like hospitality, hard work, stewardship, and creativity. “I encourage my daughter to stick by these core values. I would also encourage the high school students to stick to these core values and to reach for their goals,” said Amanda.
Amanda volunteered on a Preservation & Repair project recently and helped re-paint a house, she said it was nice to meet other future Habitat homeowners and volunteers and learn about their journeys. Now that she’s on the receiving end of the program, Amanda says she’s still taking it all in. “Honestly, I’m still in a state of ‘is this really happening?’ ‘am I really getting this?’, I don’t think I’m going to be in shock anymore until I’m finally moving in.”
Students enrolled in the high school’s Construction Management Program began active construction on Amanda and Emiliee’s home in late-August, with the house completion slated for May 2021. This highlights the school’s third year being involved in Habitat Lake-Sumter’s Youth Construction Academy and third house built with The Villages Charter High School. The program was created to provide students with valuable hands-on training and viable career opportunities after graduation. This year, Munn’s Air Conditioning & Heating will be providing support of the project by sponsoring the build and offering expertise and HVAC training to the students.
In the end, just like the magic of Walt Disney World, Amanda and Emilee will be able to create new precious memories in their future home, where Emilee also dreams of using the extra room as a Star Wars playroom. For Amanda and Emilee, their new home just might be the happiest place on Earth.
Students from South Lake High School are working with Habitat For Humanity of Lake-Sumter to help launch a new Habitat for Humanity home in Mascotte. Monday was a big day for the local Habitat for Humanity, as well as for some future homeowners and a group of students at South Lake High School. Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter started its program of partnering with high school construction students two years ago with The Villages Charter High School. Last year they added Leesburg High to the program, and this year they have added the Construction Academy of South Lake High School. The Villages school, located in Sumter County, started its home-building project in August. But Monday was the start day for students in Lake County. Eight students were accepted to the construction team in south Lake — six boys and two girls — and most of them were on hand in Mascotte for their first day on the job site. The plan is that students will spend three days a week at the job site, and two days in the classroom.
Students from the Leesburg High School Construction Academy work on constructing a home for Habitat for Humanity in Leesburg. [Cindy Peterson/Correspondent] Cindy Peterson
LEESBURG — Leesburg construction students took their first steps into their next housing project Monday as they met with the future owner of a Habitat for Humanity home on 1501 Grove Ave. in Leesburg.
The 14 students will be building the program’s second house in partnership with Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter, though for each of them it is a first — students are hand-picked to be on the team from LHS construction academy seniors.
“I chose the team, so I think they’re freaking amazing,” construction academy teacher Bryan Russ said.
Russ added that he’s really confident not only in their skills, but in their ability to work as a team and to work through any conflicts, which will be key in keeping the project moving.
The project generated a great deal of excitement not only for the team, but for the new homeowner, Jessica Smith, who has already been selected by Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter this year.
She attended a small, socially distanced event to kick off the home build on Monday, where district officials gathered to encourage students and thank Habitat for Humanity of Lake and Sumter for providing the opportunity for the students to work.
Smith, along with her son Otto, will make a home out of the new house after
Leesburg students complete it.
Smith has never been a homeowner, she said, and she and Otto, who is 13, have had to move a total of 13 times since he was born. The home he was taken back to after his birth was destroyed in a tornado in 2007, and they’ve lacked stability since.
That stability is one of the things they’re looking forward to most.
“Moving around house to house, it feels good to be living in a single spot for the rest of my teenage years,” Otto said.
“We are very blessed for this opportunity,” his mother said, looking over at the framework of the house.
Smith added that she was excited to have students working on the project, and was glad that people would be using her future home to further their education.
Between the pressures of statewide testing, staying active in after-school sports and navigating social norms, high school students rarely get the chance to learn skills that will stick with them beyond their senior year. Habitat Lake-Sumter’s Youth Construction Academy is determined to change that with a mutually beneficial program that not only teaches high school students construction, carpentry, and home-building skills, but also provides a new home to a family in need.
When asked what her thoughts on the program are, Ashley has nothing but positive feedback about the benefits it provides for the students now, and in the future.
“I really love this program. It comes with many opportunities for certifications and many different experiences with learning how to build a home. This program also gives us connections to construction companies and helps us do some networking whenever we make it into the real world. These connections could offer us jobs and a look at different parts of the construction industry.”
She likes that working in construction helps to buffer the bias of women in the construction industry, and she always gets a laugh when men react to her carrying heavy objects while working on site. While the work helps to make her strong physically, it also helps mentally, giving her, and other teens clarity and an outlet for stress.
Ashley’s hard work is paying off, prior to school closure due to Covid-19, she was awarded Student of the Month – this award focuses on a student’s employability (attendance, work performance, and willingness to excel) and overall attitude and competence “on the job” whether that is in class or onsite. As the only female construction academy student in her class, Ashley demonstrates her leadership skills by being a role model among her peers and encouraging other girls to see the construction industry as a viable career path; traits that will undoubtedly benefit Ashley in her chosen field.
Stay tuned for future updates on Ashley and find out where the Youth Construction Academy students are now!
By Lauren Lester- Real Estate Advisor and Community Advocate
In 2020, Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter worked with The Villages Charter High School Construction Management Academy and the Leesburg High School Construction Academy in the construction of two Habitat for Humanity Homes in Lake County.
The home built by The Villages Charter High School Construction Management Academy students is in the Carlton Village area of Lady Lake while the home built by the Leesburg High School Construction Academy students is on North 12th Street in Leesburg. Both projects were a complete success — with the new homeowners having a home for a lifetime built by students who developed skill sets in construction for a lifetime.
The only disappointment was the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented both high schools from following the projects all the way to the end. The students missed the opportunity to finish their Habitat homes, participate in the dedication ceremonies, and receive accolades from a grateful community for a job well done, which resulted in the enhancement of each school’s program. Students in both programs have paved the way for future students and Habitat homeowners.
The 2020-2021 school year promises to be even bigger for the Habitat for Humanity Projects in Lake and Sumter Counties, as these projects are being planned for The Villages Charter High School, Leesburg High School and South Lake High School.
These projects merge public education with private partnerships to help train students for good paying jobs and careers while providing a needed home for a working family. They teach the young people in our community the important of benevolence. Honestly, these programs work because everyone wins.
Thanks to the participation of the community, school district, and private partnerships, these programs a true success. Many people want to get involved and here is how you can participate in one of these great projects.
Each high school has an Advisory Board, which bridges the partnership between the public and private sectors. These Advisory Boards are made up of educators and business-people in the construction community that meet monthly to address the needs of their high school’s program and coordinate community participation.
If you would like to participate on one of the Advisory Boards, contact Lynnea Weissman at the Lake County School District at 352-988-4876, or Rob Grant, the Principal at The Villages Charter High School, at 352-259-3777.
Over the past school year select Youth Construction Academy students have been hard at work building two new homes in our service area. We are proud to share they are complete, beautifully built, and will soon be filled with the laughter of children as the Shields and McInnes families move in next week! The student participants from The Villages Charter School and Leesburg High started their home building projects in August with raw land and have worked alongside our Habitat construction manager as well as local sub-contractors to gain experience within the various trades of residential construction. This program is a shining example of Habitat’s mission of bringing people together to build homes, communities, and hope. A special THANK YOU to all of our sponsors and community supporters who helped make these projects a reality. Check out the videos below to get a tour of the finished homes, meet the Habitat families, and join us in congratulating the students success!
The Villages Charter Dedication Video
A special message from Walt Disney World Ambassadors
Leesburg High Dedication Video
Exciting Plans for Next Year
Thanks to the generous support of Disney, Habitat Lake-Sumter was able to invest in securing a third school relationship for our Youth Construction Academy program. We are happy to announce that next year we will have three partner schools – Leesburg High, The Villages Charter High, and South Lake High! As each school works to build their construction program, we are ready to grow with them and provide an opportunity for real life, on the job training, creating a bright outlook for their career. Below are the locations of the 20-21 home building projects by school:
The finished Lady Lake home of a single mom of two boys was built by Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter with the help of students of the Villages High School Construction Management Academy. Michael Johnson, Daily Sun
The virtual dedication ceremony for a home that Villages High School students helped build is bittersweet for students. The volunteers and Habitat for Humanity supporters who would normally attend the dedication, including the 11 students, were all absent. “I know they’re disappointed they didn’t get to finish,” said teacher Bruce Haberle, who runs the charter school’s Construction Management Academy. His students built 80% to 85% of the three-bedroom, two-bath house for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, he said. Habitat plans virtual dedications for all five homes that volunteers built this year. Female-led households will receive the keys to their new homes in the dedications between mid-May and June.
Under the direction of instructor Bruce Haberle, reflected right, The Villages High School Construction Management Academy seniors David Routzahn, 17, and Trey Jones, 19, make chalk lines for the siding on a Habitat for Humanity house Tuesday in Lady Lake. Photos by Cindy Skop, Daily Sun
By building a house for Habitat for Humanity, Villages High School Construction Management Academy students are learning a lot. Students celebrated reaching the dry-in stage Wednesday with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, Citizens First Bank, business partners in the construction industry, volunteers and the high school’s pep band. Dry-in is the turning point of the construction process when the framing, windows, exterior doors, roof, shingles and waterproof barrier are all done to protect anything inside the house that could be damaged by water. It’s usually the halfway point of the construction project, said Barry Martin, construction manager for Habitat for Humanity, who is supervising volunteers and working with VHS academy instructor Bruce Haberle.
Leesburg High School construction students have been working with Habitat for Humanity volunteers and local tradesman in the construction home at 107 N. 12th St. in Leesburg. The home, pictured Friday had made great progress to Marc Robertz-Schwartz, Habitat Academy’s executive producer. [Payne Ray/Daily Commercial]
The show will feature Leesburg construction students, local tradesmen and other partners as they work together to build a Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter home in Leesburg. New 15-minute episodes will air the third Monday of each month on Lake Sumter TV.
LEESBURG — Those curious how high school students could help build a house from start to finish have an opportunity to find out.
Habitat Academy, a 15-minute television show documenting the Leesburg High School Construction Academy’s work on a Leesburg home with Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter, will debut Monday at 7:30 p.m. on Lake Sumter TV. The channel will also upload it to Youtube and play it again throughout the week.
“I think people are going to be surprised by the progress,” Red Apples Media President and Habitat Academy executive producer Marc Robertz-Schwartz said. “We’re just amazed at how quickly that home is going up.”
Red Apples will continue to visit the home at 107 N. 12th St. once monthly in order to record the episodes, which will be released around the third week of every month. Robertz-Schwartz said they waited till the end of the year to produce the first episode as the build — a collaboration between expert tradesmen, Habitat volunteers and 11 LHS construction students — needed a few months to get off the ground.
Now that the build is underway and the production schedule has been outlined, Robertz-Schwartz said they’re expecting to produce nine episodes of Habitat Academy.
Their aim will be to showcase the build as it goes up, with episodes themed around the progress of the house.
The first episode will feature interviews with the construction students as well as community partners on the build and the show. In the following episodes, to be hosted by Don Magruder of RoMac Building Supply, the show will feature interviews with tradesmen and other experts as they showcase the progress of the build.
Don Magruder talks to students of the Leesburg Construction Academy during a ground-breaking ceremony for a Habitat for Humanity project. [Cindy Sharp/Correspondent]
The construction trade programs in our local high schools and technical schools are exploding with student growth and interest as young people are realizing that college is not for everyone and great career opportunities exist with construction-related skillsets. The writing is on the wall as technology will eliminate millions of jobs in manufacturing, retail and service-related industries over the next decade. Good college degree jobs in offices that exist today will be gone tomorrow — just ask people in the banking industry. Young people are seeing the future clearly and understand career paths are changing.
There are now construction academies in Lake and Sumter Counties — at Leesburg High School, Eustis High School, South Lake High School and The Villages Charter High School. There are over 300 students enrolled in these programs, and two of these academies (Leesburg and The Villages) are building homes for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.
Lake Tech is growing each semester with technical training in construction-related fields, and they are seeing continued growth in students and industry needs. Apprenticeship programs are springing up throughout Central Florida with groups like iBuild Central Florida laying the foundation for huge growth in training.
For any young person who is undecided whether to pursue a career in the construction trades or go to college, allow me to make the case for pursuing a career in the construction trades.
Most skilled craftspeople earn more than most people who have a college degree. Even entry-level workers in the construction industry have an opportunity to earn more than most liberal arts majors leaving a university. Master craftspeople can easily earn more than those who have a Ph.D.
Once you become a skilled craftsperson and you have your own tools, you become recession proof. Sure, the economy could falter and building slow down again. However, skilled craftspeople can always find work doing repairs for homeowners and businesses. If you have the skills, tools and ambition — you can always find work to put food on the table.
No student debt is required. The high school construction academies are free, Lake Tech is stunningly affordable and many companies offer scholarships for training. There is over $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, which will bury a generation. The tradespeople will be the ones buying homes and fixing them up in the future because they will make more money and have less debt.
Leesburg High students put the shovels in the ground during groundbreaking ceremony for a joint project of Habitat for Humanity and Leesburg High School’s Construction Academy on Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. Students will work alongside professionals to build a home for a family in need on 12th Street in Leesburg. (Rosemarie Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)
LEESBURG — A dozen Leesburg High School students will be doing more than math equations, English essays and science experiments this year. They’ll be constructing a home from the ground up, too.
The three-bedroom, two-bath home will be built near downtown Leesburg for a family in need as part of a unique partnership between Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter and Leesburg High’s Construction Academy.
Groundbreaking took place Monday at 107 N. 12th St., with a throng of state and local elected officials, business leaders and members of the community showing support for both the project and the academy. The vacant lot was donated by the city.
“This is great — the students and Leesburg High School needed it, the city of Leesburg needed it and the community needed it,” said Don Magruder, CEO of RoMac Building Supply and chairman of the academy’s advisory committee.
Roughly 100 students are enrolled in the academy, and the 12 students participating in the build were chosen based on their performance and leadership in the classroom. Each was required to have at least one year of construction classes.
“They are really a great group of talented kids,” said Lynnea Weissman, project manager with the Lake County school district’s office of College and Career Readiness. “It’s an opportunity for them to give back to the community.”
During the roughly eight-month project, the students will work alongside Habitat’s construction staff and professional tradespeople. They’ll use skills they’ve learned in class to work on every phase of the build, including the foundation and framing, electricity, plumbing, windows, doors, flooring and painting.
Senior Max Acosta, who is in his third year at the academy, said he walked into the academy during his sophomore year and fell in love with the program.
“It makes me feel really good to work on a project like this,” he said. “I’ll have a well-paid job after high school, too.”
Leesburg High School Construction Academy students broke ground on a new home they’re building with Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter. At the end of the build, expected in May, the students will hand off the keys to the new homeowner.
LEESBURG — As the morning sun beat down Monday on 107 N. 12th St., the once-empty city lot bustled with activity.
Dozens of Leesburg, Lake County and state business people and representatives gathered at the unassuming address behind the Sunoco gas station to witness the groundbreaking of an innovative project: a home that will be built from the ground up with the help of local students.
Ten students from the Leesburg High School Construction Academy broke ground Monday on a home they’ll spend the school year building with staff from Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter. It’s a big task, but the team thinks they can do it.
“I feel like I’m gonna get out here and bust my butt and get it done,” LHS sophomore Jacob Moore said, looking out over the freshly turned dirt.
Moore said he and his classmates — who were selected from among those who qualified for the project based on their skill and exceptional teamwork — hadn’t had much time to get to know each other or their new instructor, but there will be plenty more time once they get on the job. They expect to work four days most weeks.
The academy’s new instructor, Jim Ellwood, said he’s confident too, and he wants to see the students succeed. Ellwood, who’s spent more than 40 years in the construction industry, said it’s more important than ever that students have opportunities like the build.
“Right now there’s a huge need for skilled workers,” he said. “If we do not train these students, we have no one to blame but ourselves.”
Kent Adcock, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter, said a home build usually doesn’t take a full school year, but because it’s a teaching opportunity, they’ll be working slow. He predicts the students will finish it around April or May, just in time to hand off the keys to the homeowner.
“I think this will be a transformative event for the students,” Adcock said, noting that the students will get to see the finished product at the end of the year and will personally hand the keys over to the new owner.
Monday will be the official groundbreaking of a Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter home built by Leesburg High School Construction Academy students and Habitat staffers. Students will work on the project from start to finish.
The ceremony takes place on Monday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the home site, 107 North 12th St. The land for the home was donated by the city.
“This is a wonderful community project,” said Don Magruder, RoMac Building Supply CEO and academy advisory committee chairman. “We will have refreshments, a few speeches, the Leesburg High band and cheerleaders there. We are encouraging all the downtown merchants and the Leesburg Chamber of Commerce to participate with us, and we want the public to come out as well. It’s important for these students to know we support them in their efforts not only to prepare for a great career, but to also give back to their community.”
Production of the Habitat home will be a yearlong project in which students will put lessons from the previous year into practice. They’ll be working on the home from its foundations to the last coat of paint.
Students will work side-by-side with Habitat’s construction staff and professional tradespeople, many of whom plan to donate their time and resources toward the project and serve as mentors for the students.
State and local elected officials, business leaders and community residents are invited to celebrate a new partnership between Leesburg High School Construction Academy students and Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter Florida, as the two break ground on a home they will build in Leesburg for a family in need.
The ceremony takes place on Monday, Aug. 26, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the home site, 107 N. 12th Street, which was donated by the city.
“This is a wonderful community project,’’ said Don Magruder, CEO of RoMac Building Supply and chairman of the academy’s advisory committee. “We will have refreshments, a few speeches, the Leesburg High band and cheerleaders there. We are encouraging all the downtown merchants and the Leesburg Chamber of Commerce to participate with us, and we want the public to come out as well. It’s important for these students to know we support them in their efforts not only to prepare for a great career but to also give back to their community.”
Production of the Habitat home will give students an opportunity to put into practice what they have been learning in class. It will be a yearlong project, during which the students will work on every phase of the house including building the foundation and framing; installing electricity, plumbing, doors, windows, sheetrock and flooring; and painting. Students will work side by side with Habitat’s construction staff and professional tradespeople, many of whom plan to donate their time and resources toward the project and serve as mentors for the students.
Students participating in the build were selected from a large pool of applicants. They were required to have taken at least one year of construction classes at Leesburg High School and demonstrated exceptional performance and leadership in their classwork. They also had to write an essay explaining why they would be a good addition to “the dream team.”
Danielle Stroud, right, senior director of development for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, gives a high-five to Michael Goodridge, a 12th-grade member of The Villages High School’s Construction Management Academy who will help build a Habitat for Humanity home on Orange Circle in Lady Lake. George Horsford, Daily Sun
Dressed in her work boots, Villages High School senior Ashley Hess looked over the patch of grass Friday where, soon, she and her classmates will build a family’s home. “This experience will help me build something from the ground up,” she said. The Villages High School seniors, who are students in the school’s Construction Management Academy, joined about 40 others for a groundbreaking ceremony hosted by Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter on Friday for a new home on Orange Circle near Lemon Street in Lady Lake. Habitat and the academy are working together on the project to provide a new home for Brandee Shields of Ocklawaha. Shields attended the ceremony before she headed to work for The Villages Health. The mother of two boys, ages 8 and 9, is looking forward to her new home.
“I’m excited, overwhelmed and so thankful to be a part of the whole process,” she said.
Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, with the help of volunteers and sponsors, builds affordable homes. The homes are sold to those who demonstrate a need and are willing to partner with the organization by performing activities such as participating in the building of their home. The home on Orange Circle marks the second that seniors in the school’s academy will work on, said Bruce Haberle, the instructor for the academy.
Last year, Haberle led about 11 seniors on the project. They worked from August until May to complete their first home. The program was such a success that Habitat and the academy decided to work together again, Haberle said.
This year, he will have five seniors working on-site during two morning class periods, and hopes to have seven more seniors in his afternoon class work on the home.
Instructor Dan McCauley helps Leesburg High School Construction Academy student Austin Marshall with plumbing on a project in 2018. [Daily Commercial file]
The upcoming school year for the Leesburg High School Construction Academy promises to be exciting, challenging and very rewarding as the students are partnering with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter to build a home for a local family. The home will be constructed at 107 North 12th Street in Leesburg, which is just off Main Street and close to First Baptist Church of Leesburg. Although the owners o
f the home have not been determined by Habitat, the approval process should be completed by the group in early fall.
“Habitat for Humanity is a hand up, not a handout,” said Kent Adcock, president and CEO of Habitat, adding that the group has a qualification process that requires “sweat equity” homeownership for each project.
The Construction Academy’s Habitat project is a community project that is truly a collaborative effort.
The revamped Construction Academy was one of the top priorities of incoming Lake County Schools Superintendent Diane Kornegay, who mustered the construction industry to support an $866,000 grant from the state of Florida. Through the efforts of Kornegay and the Lake County School Board, LHS received the grant last summer. Lynnea Weissman, grant project manager for Career and College Readiness, was tasked by Lake County Schools to develop the construction program and institute Kornegay’s vision.
A great deal of the success of the project is owed to State Rep. Jennifer Sullivan and State Sen. Dennis Baxley, who championed the grant in the Florida Legislature.
Weissman assembled an advisory board of local leaders who committed to the program’s success by meeting monthly to help develop a career pathway for students in the construction trades. The board brought real world construction expertise to the academy and helps with mentorships, training, demonstrations and the development of soft skills needed for employment. The board also assisted in setting up the first Academy of Construction Technologies (ACT), which allows member construction companies to hire students for summer paid internships. Students in the LHS Construction Academy now have the opportunity to work in real construction jobs at very attractive pay rates. Plus, these students are seeing firsthand the lucrative jobs offered in the building trades.
Jasmine Jacobs held tightly to her 6-year-old daughter’s hand as they walked up to their new home together. Awaiting their arrival were some of the people who helped her become a first-time homeowner, including 11 seniors from the construction management academy at The Villages High School. The young builders stood proudly outside the brand-new home on Winners Circle in Lady Lake as it glistened in the sunlight Friday morning.—Rachel Stuart, The Villages Daily Sun
As the first graduating class, the success of the partnership between the Villages Charter School and Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter was evident in the smiling faces of the new homeowner, students, teachers, and sponsors alike.
As the Youth Construction Academy expands to include Leesburg High School and over 70 new students; the success and growth of the Youth Construction Academy is due in no small part to United Way of Lake-Sumter. United Way has chosen Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter to receive an education grant in support of the Youth Construction Academy.
The Villages Charter High School students worked alongside industry professionals, instructors, and Habitat Construction Manager, Barry Martin, to build the house as part of their capstone project; construction began in August with the students building as their first period class.
“They were able to hone their construction skills and get a realistic feel for the business,” said Bruce Haberle, instructor of the construction management academy. “It’s a team-building experience where they were able to give back to those who are less fortunate.”
United Way’s mission is to “advance the common good by focusing on education, income and health,” Habitat of Lake-Sumter and United Way share in the belief that these three things are the “building blocks for a good life—a quality education that leads to a stable job, enough income to support a family through retirement, and good health.”
Thanks to United Way of Lake-Sumter and their ongoing partnership with Habitat’s Youth Construction Academy, the graduating class will be the first of many students to gain experience, acquire employable skills, and engage in the social responsibility and community impact that shapes professional and personal development.
“It’s been amazing, and they’ve done a great job,” said Danielle Stroud, Senior Director of Development for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter. “We really hope they learned something along the way, which is the purpose of this partnership.”
Swayde Farring, left, a senior at The Villages High School, hugs Jasmine Jacobs, center, of Lady Lake, as her daughter, Carmen, 6, stands by during the dedication of their new home Friday in Lady Lake. It’s the first home VHS students have built through the school’s construction management academy. Bill Mitchell, Daily Sun
Jasmine Jacobs held tightly to her 6-year-old daughter’s hand as they walked up to their new home together. Awaiting their arrival were some of the people who helped her become a first-time homeowner, including 11 seniors from the construction management academy at The Villages High School. The young builders stood proudly outside the brand-new home on Winners Circle in Lady Lake as it glistened in the sunlight Friday morning. For the first time, Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter partnered with The Villages Charter School to build the house. Construction started in August, with the students working several days a week until it was completed.
“They were able to hone their construction skills and get a realistic feel for the business,” said Bruce Haberle, instructor of the construction management academy. “It’s a team-building experience where they were able to give back to those who are less fortunate.”
Habitat for Humanity, a housing organization that works with communities across the nation, chooses its recipients through a first-come, first-qualified process.
Jacobs, a retail store manager, learned she had been selected after going through several steps for approval.
“I was overwhelmed,” she said. “I was like, ‘Is this really happening?’ But now that we’re at the tail end of it, I’m just so excited.”
The families chosen by Habitat for Humanity are required to contribute 200 hours of sweat equity, which means they take part in the building process.
Jacobs helped by greeting and thanking volunteers and donors, and she also took financial-education courses, credit counseling and first-time homebuyer courses.
“I got to help do the outside, and I did some caulking, painting and flooring,” she said. “I had no idea what I was doing, but the kids from school were very nice and helped me out.”
She said she enjoyed working with the students because they brought some lively energy to the site.
“They were loud and funny, making jokes and blasting music,” she said. “They made it fun.”
This is the first home students have built through the academy, which launched last school year.
“It’s been amazing, and they’ve done a great job,” said Danielle Stroud, director of development for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter. “We really hope they learned something along the way, which is the purpose of this partnership.”
For Jasmine and her six-year-old daughter, the dream of owning a new home began with an email from The Villages Charter Schools. For the students at the high school, they began building those dreams a year earlier.
The Villages Charter School, in The Villages, Florida, had just launched their Construction Management Academy and had assembled an advisory committee that included industry experts to help steer curriculum for the new academy. Don McGruder, CEO of RoMac Lumber and a member of the advisory committee, suggested the academy partner with Habitat for Humanity which then began working with the high school to hammer out the details of a partnership as soon as possible.
The following year, an email looking for applicants to participate as the home owner landed in Jasmine’s inbox. “I remember when I was chosen for the opportunity,” said Jasmine. “I was super excited and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it.”
Jasmine’s daughter Carmen was overjoyed as well. “She was literally jumping for joy,” Jasmine said of her daughter’s reaction to being told they were getting a home of their own. “She’s excited about finally having a backyard.”
As for the students participating in the Construction Management Academy, they were excited about the opportunity to give back to the community while preparing for employment or advanced training in the building construction industry. The academy’s curriculum, which is a credit course for the students, outlines opportunities to learn everything from basic use of hand tools, plan reading and rough carpentry to more advanced concepts such as site preparation, estimating and knowledge of codes, regulations and sustainability issues relevant to the construction industry.
The academy’s students have had hands on involvement with everything except for plumbing, HVAC, and electrical work which must be done by licensed professionals. Even so, they were able to observe those trades being performed in a live environment and were presented with speakers and other learning opportunities to increase their knowledge of those trades.
Jasmine learned some new skills as well by helping with painting and the installation of the home’s dry wall. And, while her daughter was too young to help in the construction, they were both able to meet some of the young men helping them realize their dream. They have a great group of kids working on the house,” said Jasmine. “It’s amazing to see what these young men have accomplished.”
The mother-daughter duo gets to see those accomplishments on a near daily basis. “They’re ahead of schedule and we’re closing in April,” said Jasmine who takes Carmen to check on their new home every day after school. Jasmine also noted Carmen’s excitement at seeing all of the young kids playing in their future neighborhood. “I’m excited because now we’ll be in a new neighborhood and I can make new friends,” shared Carmen.
The partnership with The Villages Charter School has been such a success that Habitat for Humanity is already in the process of selecting a home site on which to work with the academy next year. Habitat is also extending the program into Leesburg where it plans to partner with Leesburg High School on a similar program.
As for Jasmine and Carmen, they are planning on celebrating their move with both of their birthdays in June. “We’ll be having a housewarming party with some friends and family as well,” says Jasmine. But Carmen has much bigger plans. “In June, for my birthday, I’m going to have a mermaid slumber party with all my friends and cousins!” Surely a place and time for new dreams to come true.
Kaleb Ward, left, a senior at The Villages High School, and Bruce Haberle, construction management academy instructor, work on the roof trusses on a Habitat for Humanity home under construction Thursday at Winners Circle in Lady Lake. Bill Mitchell, Daily Sun
A local family soon will have a home with the help of 11 seniors from The Villages High School.
The students are building an 1,100-square-foot house in Lady Lake through the school’s Construction Management Academy’s partnership with Habitat for Humanity, a housing organization that works with communities across the nation.
On Thursday, the roof trusses were set on the house where the students have worn hard hats and climbed ladders four days a week since the beginning of the school year.
VHS Principal Bill Zwick stood at the construction site to observe and admire their hard work.
“This gives them the total experience of building a house from beginning to end,” Zwick said. “When they graduate, they’ll have this background knowledge. It’s a learning experience that will benefit them no matter where they go in life.”
The students started building the back wall Aug. 16, and their hands will be on the house until the project is complete at the end of the school year. So far, they are on schedule.
The two-year academy launched last year, and this is the first year it has been offered to both juniors and seniors.
The juniors learn the basics of construction and go through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration 10-hour training, and the seniors put their skills to the test.
“It gives us a good foundation to build a career,” said senior Colby Sharp, 17.
The class works to build a home within the school year, leaving them nine more months to go. At the end of those months, the home will be turned over to Habitat for Humanity. The students will complete everything that is not mechanical, plumbing, or electric. As of Thursday morning, the foundation has been poured in and they are setting up the roof.
Students come out to build the home four days a week. Friday’s are held in the classroom.
Students from The Villages High School Construction Management Academy will be lending a hand in the construction of a Habitat for Humanity home this fall. The project will give them the opportunity to gain firsthand experience on a job site. Bill Mitchell, Daily Sun
Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter will break ground on a new home soon, but the construction crew may look a little younger than usual.
The Villages Charter School and Habitat for Humanity are teaming up through The Villages High School Construction Management Academy to give participating seniors the opportunity to gain firsthand experience on a job site.
“Part of the ramp-up was deciding what projects students would take on, because all of our academies are project based,” said Randy McDaniel, the charter school’s director of education.
VHS academies begin with an advisory board made up with professionals from that field.
“We organized a group of people to be on the construction board and began brainstorming sessions,” McDaniel said. “It was during that discussion that one of the architects mentioned Habitat for Humanity.”
Thanks to the partnership, students in the academy with an interest in construction will have the opportunity to gain real-life experience.
“It’s just like all of our academies — the closer you can make the experience to real life, the better it is going to be,” McDaniel said. “They’re going to be learning how to build a house. They will be there from the foundation to completion. That’s about as real world as you get.”
McDaniel said students will practice time management. They will learn how to meet demands and deadlines, and they will gain pride in their work and skills they learn.
“We are very excited about the opportunity for the kids and the school,” he said. “Plus, Habitat’s mission to help people become homeowners is pretty big. My hope is that it goes really well and becomes a long-running partnership.”
As instructor for the academy, Bruce Haberle will oversee the partnership.
If you thought construction in The Villages was booming — you haven’t seen anything yet.
Now, all eyes are set on training the next set of builders and craftsmen.
On Tuesday, representatives from The Villages High School’s Construction Management Academy were joined by community and business partners to officially announce a partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.
Starting in August, 12th-grade students enrolled in the academy will no longer start their day in the classroom, but rather on the job site working side-by-side with volunteers to construct an anticipated 1,200-square-foot, 2-3 bedroom home.
“This gives the kids the ability to build a home from start to finish,” said Larry Green, construction management teacher at VHS and resident of the Village of Osceola Hills. “They’ll get to be a part of all the different components — from the ground substructure, all the way to the top of the roof.”
The school currently offers nine academy options to juniors and seniors, including health sciences, engineering, entrepreneurship and more.
Both agriscience and construction management were added prior to the start of the current school year, largely to accommodate growth and demand
in The Villages.
Tuesday’s partnership with the local chapter of the nonprofit organization was the result of many months of planning that included gaining building permits, negotiating with insurance providers and attracting local business partners.
“It’s going to be exciting working with these young people,” said Barry Martin, construction manager with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, who already has secured the site for the new home off Griffin View Drive in Lady Lake.
“You know not everybody is cut out for college,” added Martin. “In construction, there’s just so many different arenas that you can go into. Each one of them all have the potential to make an excellent living, and maybe even start their own businesses one day. Being able to share with them the joy in building a home, and seeing something like this go up — it’s just going to be awesome.”
Tuesday also served as a platform to unveil a new 24-foot trailer designed by Mike Manly, owner of MiCo Customs — a Wildwood-based residential and commercial contracting service.
As part of Habitat’s ongoing efforts to strengthen the community, we recognize the need to engage our youth in that goal as well. To spearhead this effort, we’re starting a new initiative called the “Youth Construction Academy.” The purpose of this program is to interact with the next generation on a meaningful level. This means not just showing them what we do, but teaching them. Through the coordination of multiple groups, we’re aiming to get high school students onto an active job site to begin learning about construction science.
For our portion of this program, Habitat for Humanity of Lake Sumter will provide the job site, professional supervision, and all materials and equipment needed to build. Our extensive experience in home construction as well as our personnel and equipment will simplify the process for schools and students. This helps ensure they can focus on the educational aspects of the program while we handle the back end. In conjunction with our site supervisor, we will also have experienced volunteers working alongside the students to provide extra help and engagement.
By creating and maintaining partnerships with local schools, Habitat is able to ensure that students receive an on-site instruction that is matched in the classroom. This curriculum will cover a large range of topics relating to construction science, site safety, laws and regulations, and more. This curriculum also ensures that upon successful graduation from the program students are able to receive a recognized certificate of completion. This certificate, and the backing schools behind it, will hold weight and legitimacy with potential employers, assuring them that the student is familiar with the industry and ready to begin their career.
Habitat’s entire mission is built on the support of the community. Without it, needs are left unmet and communities are not able to grow. By not just teaching students how to build but giving them a reason to, the mission is able to carry on into future years. This program will address both community and individual needs, through home building and skills training, and the effect of both will lead to a stronger community.