On a 20 degree morning at 8 a.m. you won’t see many people out doing woodworking or fixing the front steps.
The same can’t be said for Rhinelander High School teacher Russell Germain’s Building Trades students. On the morning of Dec. 18, like almost every other morning this school year, those students were on-site, working with stocking caps and hoods under their work helmets.
Two classes—one in the afternoon and one in the evening, totalling approximately 28 students—have committed to building an entire house in one school year. Which for students in the Northwoods means spending a good part of that commitment out in below freezing weather.
The weather hasn’t dampened their spirits, however, or their enthusiasm for the project.
“It’s been very fun,” said Jacob Froseth, one of the students. “A little cold… But it’s a new privilege to be out here building a house, to do something special for someone. It’s been fun, learning a lot.”
The students have been learning from the ground up, learning on nearly every aspect of building.
“We’re trying to keep the educational part of it ahead of the curve,” Germain said. “With new trends, in terms of efficiency… We don’t try to focus just on the building part, it’s the energy efficiency, it’s all the little things, the details that kind of set it apart.”
Among many, many other jobs, the students learned roofing and sheathing, how to build walls and insulate them. Germain said soon they will be learning to sheetrock the wall frames they were just gluing down on Dec. 18.
“I’m always looking for students that are willing to pursue classes that are hands-on, you know, real life,” Germain said. “If they’re thinking of signing up for a class that they’re going to use the rest of their life, this would be one of them.”
“We’ve been learning a lot. It’s nice to do something different than sit in a classroom all day, and work hands on,” said Ben Quade, another student in the class. “It’s just something different, and probably something I’d like to do later in life, know how to do.”
The program, which in it’s original form has been going on since 1982, found a new sponsor this year in the form of Habitat for Humanity Northwoods.
“I was all for it from the get-go,” Germain said. “Everything’s funded through Habitat, we’re just supplying the labor, really… It hasn’t really changed much other than our partner.”
Aside from the technical details of the program, joining with Habitat adds another, more personal benefit.
“They get to meet the family, and I encourage that to happen, because it kind of, it’s a little more ownership in it and who they’re actually building for,” Germain said. “I stress that all the time—it’s not a worksheet that gets thrown away. It’s something that we’re hoping is going to last a hundred years or better. And somebody’s going to raise a family in it… it’s really a win-win for these guys, and to fulfill Habitat’s mission as well.”
“Yeah, it will be nice to meet them,” Quade said. “Kind of gives you something to work for, and know that you’re working for someone, instead of just an object that you’re working on.”
It’s a project that Germain hopes the students can hold onto for a long time, not only the pride in a job well done, but the satisfaction of helping those less fortunate.
“I don’t think they’ve realized it yet, you know, how valuable it is,” Germain said. “Out of 800-and-some students in the high school, I’ve got 28 doing this. I don’t think they’re going to realize it until the end, how fortunate they were to have a chance to do something [like this].”
“It’s been really nice, they’re really good sponsors for this,” Quade said. “I think it’s a great thing they’re doing, helping people who need houses, low-cost, and I just think it’s really good.”