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Hammers, nails become textbook for life lesson

Harding and West Charlotte high schools are fierce rivals. But Wednesday morning, Harding senior Jamarius Reid and West Charlotte senior Marthony Hobgood teamed up to saw floor joists in a Habitat home.

That’s the vision of Senior BuildUp: Seniors from across Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools uniting to build houses, change lives and develop their own skills and leadership.

The Class of 2013 faced cold wind and red mud to start their Habitat for Humanity house, in west Charlotte’s Reid Park neighborhood. The goal is to finish building the house and raising $75,000 to pay for it before June graduation ceremonies.

Nineteen students, representing all the participating schools, boarded a bus Wednesday to launch the hammer-and-nail phase of the project. They’re working on a home for In Rmah and Yun Rlan, Montagnards from Vietnam, and their three children.

After CMS and Habitat announced Senior BuildUp in November, the project hit some bumps. The original plan was to build three houses this year, with students, faculty, alumni and other supporters raising $225,000. But leaders soon learned that some schools already had booked their big fundraisers, said Phil Prince, communications director for Habitat Charlotte.

They also discovered that three large high schools in the north – Hough, North Mecklenburg and Hopewell – had already made plans to build a house with Our Towns Habitat in Cornelius. That pulled them out of this year’s BuildUp. Olympic High builds a Habitat house on its southwest Charlotte campus every year, so those students weren’t available to join the districtwide effort.

Senior BuildUp scaled back the goal to a single house for 2013. Fundraising has been slow, with just more than $26,000 so far. Only two schools, Providence and Ardrey Kell in the south, have raised more than $5,000, while 14 have reported less than $1,000.

CMS Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark said she’s confident this class will meet the $75,000 goal by graduation. She said she knows of schools that held big fundraisers recently but haven’t sent the checks to Habitat offices.

On the bus ride in Wednesday, students shared what their schools have done so far. Clark said she could feel the energy rising.

Site superintendent Tommy Daigle gave the students a quick briefing on power-tool safety and how to avoid hitting thumbs with hammers. He and other Habitat staff were on hand to supervise, along with experienced Americorps volunteers.

Frank Spencer, CEO of Habitat Charlotte, offered opening words: “I think this is going to be a day when you can take back to your fellow students the joy of putting bodily action behind your fundraising.”

Danielle Hopkins and Emily Mason from Northwest School of the Arts said most fundraising projects end when students send off a check. This one, they said, really begins now, with the physical work.

“Young people, we love instant gratification, whether it’s a Facebook post or building a home,” Mason said. “We can see what we’re building.”

Elec Shelton, an Independence senior, said this project is drawing wide interest, even from students who don’t plan a career in construction. “It’s more than putting something on a resume,” he said.

After Wednesday’s kickoff, schools will take turns providing the construction labor.

Hobgood and Reid, assigned to work together because they’re old enough to use a power saw, said they’re eager to come back with their own classmates.

And if they’re competing to see whether West Charlotte or Harding can do more, well, that’s exactly the kind of rivalry BuildUp organizers love to see.

Helms: 704-358-5033
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