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Building the American dream in Harford County

SchoolsHigh SchoolsHabitat for Humanity InternationalHarford Community College

It’s been said it takes a village to raise a child, but in this scenario, it takes a community to build a home. For the past seven years, Habitat for HumanitySusquehanna and Harford Technical High School, a vocational school in Bel Air, have partnered to build homes for those in need. This summer, the students were able to give back to one of their own and help an alumna achieve the American dream of homeownership.

“It’s really nice,” says the new homeowner, Kimberly Johnson of Aberdeen. “It’s kind of like coming full circle.”

Johnson, 34, studied cosmetology while she was a student at Harford Tech and graduated in 1996. From there, she went to Harford Community College, where she studied mass communications. She currently has a communications position at Comcast.

“I’m looking to go further with communications,” says Johnson. “But I want to give the kids a chance to grow up before I do that.”

Work began on Johnson’s modular home two school years ago. Everyone from freshmen to seniors in the construction trades program at the high school was involved with the project, which was sponsored by Bank of America.

The 966-square-foot home includes Energy Star appliances and lighting, low-flow plumbing fixtures and green fiber insulation, according to Dave Guttman, director of construction at Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna.

Other green features include 100-percent recycled drywall, low-emittance (or low-E) windows that reduce solar heat gain, low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) bottles.

“Habitat adopted a green building policy many, many years ago,” Guttman says. “We’re just trying to continue to find new ways to be more energy efficient and build a healthier house.”

Michael Svezzese, the Career and Technology Education trades and industry instructor at Harford Tech, supervises the construction of the home in his classroom at the high school. The home is then constructed in two halves before it’s delivered to its permanent location.

Between the lecture and hands-on construction, the students spend one hour each day working on the home.

“You have students who come into a tech school, and they’ve never utilized hand tools. It’s amazing,” says Svezzese. “Then they’re up on the roof, and they get a thrill out of this stuff. They’re learning skills for the workforce.”

Before the service-learning project even begins, students must apply and interview to be a part of it as project managers.

“They have to learn those social skills, those project management skills, time management and budget skills, not just actual construction,” says Svezzese. “It’s pretty good because it goes into their portfolio.”

And the impact will last long after the seniors have graduated.

“It’s evident it’s the highlight of their high school career,” says Guttman. “They talk about how they’re able to drive pass the house and know they contributed to it.”

The participating students wrote thank-you letters to Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna to express their gratitude. One student wrote, “The project known as GB-3 was not only Kim Johnson’s home, but it also became ours.”

Another student wrote, “It taught me so much more than just building. It has also taught me about responsibility and ownership. I loved every moment working on it.” One student described the experience as the “opportunity of a lifetime.”

Joann Blewett, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna, says Harford Tech has one of the best vocational programs in the state.

“They take a holistic approach,” she says. “The fact that we’re helping to empower the next generation of construction folks is amazing. We’re a construction company as well as a nonprofit, and I love the fact we’re helping to enable that new generation.”

Meanwhile, Johnson and her three kids, a 7-year-old daughter, 3-year-old daughter, and 1-year old son, are in love with their new home.

“The size is perfect. The rooms are perfect. It’s a perfect fit,” she says. “It’s such a coincidence that it’s a house Harford Tech built.”

If you’d like more information about volunteering your time, talent or money to Habitat for the Humanity Susquehanna, please visit habitatsusq.org or call 410-638-4434. 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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