My friend Heather, her husband, two children and two cats moved into a newly built house in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, three years ago. With the state of the world as it has been, I hadn’t been able to see the house until this past June. (Cedar Rapids is just under a three-hour drive from my home, and the pandemic, unfortunately, stopped me from making that drive.) Heather’s new house is lovely. It was built in a newer development and features all the amenities homeowners in our part of the country are seeking: open concept, walk-out finished basement, three-car garage, electric fireplaces to snuggle near in the cold months, and room for their kids to play and grow.
What’s unique about Heather’s home is that it was built by kids, specifically juniors and seniors in Cedar Rapids public schools who are interested in the trades. The 2022-23 school year kicked off the 50th home Cedar Rapids students will build. The project began with basement excavation in August. Then the students are on the job site daily as of September, around the time school starts. They begin the year by learning safety on a job site and then work with all the trades throughout the build to learn the proper ways of constructing a home—and hopefully discover what trade they may like to go into after graduation.
In fact, last spring a former student of the Cedar Rapids Student Built House program taught the current students how to set and install interior doors with one of his employees. I’m sure that gentleman never imagined 25 years ago when he was in the program that he’d someday be one of the contractors who would get to pay it forward and teach a new crew of young people about construction.
When I asked Heather if she and her husband would buy a student-built home again, she responded they would absolutely, 100 percent buy another student-built home. She said the students learned how to install all the materials and systems correctly, which resulted in a home that was meticulously constructed and has had zero defects in the three years they’ve been in the house.
Other schools in Heather’s area are taking notice of the Cedar Rapids Student Built House program. In fact, the high school from which Heather graduated, which is 45 minutes west of Cedar Rapids, has launched its own home-building program. Heather’s nephew, a senior, is part of this year’s crew. He’s certain he wants to go into the trades but is unsure about which, so he’s looking forward to learning more about each trade before graduation.
These home-building programs are a fantastic way to entice more young people into the trades. They not only give students the opportunity to learn from and hear the experiences of real working trades people, but they also allow students to try many different trades before deciding on the one that’s most interesting to them. Learn more about the Cedar Rapids program via its Facebook page, Cedar Rapids Student Built House.
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