More than 8,000 seniors in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are taking on a new role getting low-income families into homes, as the district Wednesday announced a pioneering partnership with Habitat for Humanity.
The district’s 26 high schools will compete to raise money and hammer nails for three Habitat homes this year and five each of the next two years. Local Habitat officials say they hope the Senior BuildUp project will become a national model for teaching teens construction skills and civic responsibility.
“It’s not just the building of houses we promote, but rather the building of competence, caring and community,” said Frank Spencer, CEO of Habitat Charlotte. The Lake Norman branch is also taking part.
Habitat for Humanity uses donations and volunteer labor to build homes for low-income families who join the volunteer carpenters and demonstrate their ability to make no-interest mortgage payments.
Charlotte’s chapter has a reputation for innovation, having launched all-female homebuilding projects and “critical repair” projects to make existing homes livable. Both ideas spread across the country.
CMS has a history of helping. In 2006, seniors from nine high schools teamed up for “Brick by Brick,” raising $60,000 and providing labor to build a home together. Also that year, Olympic High launched a Habitat partnership; students are now working on their fifth home.
At Wednesday’s event, Olympic senior Maceo Rucker-Shivers talked about how working on Habitat homes nudged him toward a career in civil engineering and taught him about collaboration. He said he loves putting his math and science skills to work on a real-life project and envisioning families celebrating holidays and milestones in a house he helped build.
Senior BuildUp takes things to a new level. If the three-year goal is met, students will raise almost $1 million (the cost is now $75,000 per home) and build 13 homes. And with families, friends and alumni joining the seniors to raise money and build houses, the project stands to reach tens of thousands of people.
“This is without question the largest volunteer effort we have ever undertaken,” Spencer said.
Student leaders from several schools came to the event at Independence High to learn more. Marthony Hobgood, senior class president at West Charlotte High, and classmate Joshua Moore, an officer on the student executive council, acknowledged that many seniors already have busy schedules. But they think they can generate enthusiasm for the effort.
Hobgood said he plans to study mechanical engineering. “It would help me in my career field,” he said.
Moore said he’ll tell classmates “how they can save a life, basically.”
Construction is slated to run from March to May, with locations for the first three homes yet to be selected. Fundraising starts right away. Leaders want everyone to know they can log on to the website and support their favorite school.
“A little friendly competition couldn’t hurt,” said Spencer, a North Meck alumnus.
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