Student-Built Homes Bolster Community

By Garrett Shiflet Ι Daily Sun Staff Writer Ι April 30, 2023

It didn’t take long for Debbie Duket to start making plans for her new home.

“First, I’m going to put everything in my kitchen and I’m going to cook to my heart’s desire and have people over to eat,” Debbie said. “I’m so excited about using this kitchen, I can’t even tell you.”

Duket and her daughter, Victoria Duket, and granddaughter, Dylann Duket, are the recipients of one of two houses in Wildwood built by students in The Villages High School’s Construction Management Academy in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.

The dedication ceremony for the Dukets’ home, sponsored by Citizens First Bank, took place April 20, and the ceremony for the McPherson family home, sponsored by RoMac Distribution, happened Monday.

“This isn’t a house, it’s a home,” said Brad Weber, executive vice president and chief lending officer of Citizens First Bank. “And Debbie, this morning you woke up in the place you were living and tonight you get to lay your head down in your own home.”

This is the first time VHS students built two homes in one school year. The program allows them to get hands-on experience in construction while learning the importance of community service.

“It’s a vision in the beginning and they bring it to life,” Debbie said. “With Habitat, the people and the kids, every person involved — they bring it to life.”

VHS student Brett Wilke liked working with his classmates on the project, especially the early stage of putting the framing together.

“It was very interesting — it was fun,” Wilke said. “We learned a lot.”

Wilke said the program has benefits beyond bolstering a future career.

“With this type of stuff, even if you don’t do it for a career, it’s stuff you can do by yourself at your house if something breaks,” Wilke said. “You don’t have to pay someone a bunch of money to fix it, you can do it yourself."

Though contractors are required to do some of the work on the homes, students work right alongside them.

“It’s a great hands-on experience,” said Pastor Perez, a senior in the academy. “From literally starting from the ground up, starting the framing, all the way up to doing the roofing and the shingles and all that.”

Perez said he enjoyed the experiential form of learning.

“There isn’t a day you’re not learning something different,” Perez said.

At the second ceremony, Shannon McPherson and her son, Devin McPherson, got the keys to their home.

Both expressed appreciation for the work that went into the project.

“I’d come to look at and take pictures (of the home), and there was love and energy when you walked in, even from just the outside,” Shannon said to the students. “I was always seeing all the precision and hard work that you put into our home, and I thank you so much.”

Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter helps families buy homes at a more affordable cost. Family members must complete “sweat equity” hours during the build, take a financial literacy course and get approved for a loan.

“We’ve had the privilege of working with so many fantastic families,” said Danielle Stroud, president and chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter. “Each and every one of them are different in their journey to home ownership. We try to meet them where they are, provide them with the tools and resources to make the next step. That’s all that it is — it’s eliminating barriers so that they can get to that point in their life.”

Justin Cooper, general manager of RoMac Distribution, said RoMac is proud to supply material for the builds.

“You guys did a beautiful job on this house, so I cannot thank you enough,” he said.

Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter’s Youth Construction Academy program also partners with Leesburg High School, South Lake High School and Eustis High School in Lake County.

Those schools also are wrapping up this year’s projects with home dedication ceremonies.

Leesburg High School students presented the keys to their home project, sponsored by RoMac Building Supply, to the Brewington family Wednesday in Leesburg.

“Leesburg really brings out all students — it’s not just these construction students, they bring out the band and cheerleaders,” said Lacie Himes, development director for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.

Eustis High School’s ceremony is Monday in Eustis for a home sponsored by First National Bank of Mount Dora.

South Lake High School will have its home dedication ceremony Friday in Mascotte, and the home was sponsored by Truist Financial Corporation.

After all the ceremonies, the Youth Construction Academy program will have completed 15 homes since its inception.

Next school year, students in Wildwood Middle High School’s new Construction Academy program, which specializes in HVAC and electrical programs, will work on a home as well.

Himes said the program is the perfect example of “public and private partnership.”

“We love to see the community come together like that to support students and affordable housing,” Himes said.