Shannon McPherson couldn’t find the words to express her gratitude.
She couldn’t even find a word.
The Leesburg resident and her son, Devin, will be living in the second home that Villages High School Construction Management Academy students are building through Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter.
“A word can’t encapsulate it,” McPherson said. “It’s not a one-word trip.”
She helped move piles of dirt for her future home during the first shovelful on Wednesday in Wildwood.
This is the first year that VHS Construction Management Academy students have built two houses. The students inaugurated the other house in August.
VHS director Rob Grant said the academy and the partnership with Habitat give students a taste of what it’s like to have a career in construction.
“I hope you all have a great experience. You’re going to do what no other class has ever done – build two houses,” Grant told the crowd.
Business partners such as Citizens First Bank, RoMac Distribution and RoMac Building Supply also attended Wednesday’s event.
Justin Cooper, General Manager of RoMac Distribution, spoke about the need for more people in the industry.
“We need you in the future of construction,” Cooper told the students. “I don’t know if you know how important it is, but there’s always building, and there’s always building to be done. You’ll be a huge part of that. So for the young men and young women are interested in this – thank you.”
Bruce Haberle, instructor at The Villages High School Construction Management Academy, is proud that the students are taking care of two homes this year.
“I think it’s really great that, first of all, we have the manpower,” Haberle said. “And now we have acquaintances from the first house to jump into the second house. The kids are doing great this year.”
The academy’s 27 seniors will work on both houses. The first house started in August has all its framework finished, the sheathed walls and the roof trusses installed.
“We should be ready for the roof by the end of the week, and we’ll probably start installing windows and working on our mechanical interior,” Haberle said.
Haberle couldn’t be happier with the growth of his academy and his current senior class. Last year’s academy had 13 seniors.
“I’m really happy with how the academy is going, I’m really happy with all the community support we’re getting,” Haberle said.
Students work alongside professionals and earn industry certifications through the program, but they also enjoy helping local families.
“It feels good to know that we are actually helping families,” said Emilee Lorenz, a senior at the academy.
Lorenz said she did “a bit of everything” with the builds, including putting up tarps on the roof and attaching the walls.
“I love working in groups and as a team and seeing how much we can accomplish,” Lorenz said.
Lorenz plans to continue in the industry after high school and “climb the ranks,” she said.
Senior CJ Zlasto enjoys helping his community and getting to work with his hands.
He says he learned a lot from his experiences.
“I really love seeing this come to life,” Zlasto said. “We start with just a blank concrete slab, and all of a sudden we’ve got the walls in place, then the trusses. Then the roof is pretty much almost done.”
McPherson said she was grateful for all the support and for the opportunity.
“Every young man and woman who lifts a hammer or a nail, every donor, every person who sweats it out working hard in our home, that will never be taken for granted,” McPherson said.
McPherson already has a plan for her on what she will do for her home.
“Pray, give thanks and have our family’s blessings. I was raised by immigrant grandparents and they were never able to buy a home here…so this gift resonates through the generations,” McPherson said. .
McPherson also spoke to the students about their work.
“Any time you want to drive by when you’re older and say, ‘Look at this house, I’m building it,’ just do it,” McPherson told the crowd. “And we’re thrilled to be working with you guys. Thank you so much for this partnership gift.”
Adam Hatfield, 2020 VHS academy graduate and MiCo Customs inventory manager, attended the event to show his support for the program.
Hatfield said the lessons he learned “absolutely” prepared him for the industry.
“It was a learning curve, it’s huge,” Hatfield said. “It’s great that they’re continuing to do this, and it’s an opportunity, because there’s a lot to do.”
Writer Garrett Shiflet can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5367, or [email protected]