VHS Construction Management Academy breaks ground on second home

Members of The Villages High School Construction Management Academy participated in a groundbreaking ceremony for the two homes they are building for Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter, Florida, in Wildwood. One home is going to Debbie Duket, left, who is joined by her granddaughter, Dylann Duket, 12, and the other home will be going to Shannon McPherson, and her son, Devin McPherson, center. 

Shannon McPherson could not find the words to express her gratitude. 

She couldn't even find one word. 

The Leesburg resident and her son, Devin, will live in the second home students with The Villages High School's Construction Management Academy are building through Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.

"One word can't encapsulate it," McPherson said. "It's not a single-word journey." 

She helped moved piles of dirt for her future home during the groundbreaking Wednesday in Wildwood. 

This is the first year VHS Construction Management Academy students are building two homes. Students broke ground on the other home in August. 

VHS Principal Rob Grant said the academy and the partnership with Habitat gives students a snapshot of what it's like to have a career in construction.

"I hope you all have a great experience. You are going to do what no other class has ever done — build two homes,"  Grant said to the crowd. 

Business partners such as Citizens First Bank, RoMac Distribution and RoMac Building Supply also attended Wednesday's event.

Justin Cooper, a general manager at RoMac Distribution, spoke about the need for more people in the industry. 

"We need you in the future of building," Cooper said to students. "I don't know if you know how important it is, but there is always construction, and there is always building to be done. You guys will play a critical role in that. So, to have young men and young women interested in that — thank you."

Bruce Haberle,  instructor of The Villages High School's Construction Management Academy, is proud that students are taking on two homes this year. 

"I think it's really awesome that, one, we have the manpower," Haberle said. "And now we have knowledge from the first house to jump into the second house. The kids are doing really well this year."

All 27 seniors of the academy will work on both homes. The first house started in August has all its framing complete, walls sheathed and roofing trusses installed. 

"We should be ready for the roofing by the end of the week, and we'll probably start setting windows in and working on our mechanical inside," Haberle said. 

Haberle could not be happier with how his academy has grown and his current class of seniors. Last year's academy had 13 seniors.

"I'm really pleased with the way the academy is going, I'm really happy with all the community support that we get," Haberle said.

Students work alongside professionals and earn industry certifications through the program, but they also enjoy helping local families. 

"It feels pretty good knowing we are actually getting to help families out," said Emilee Lorenz, a senior in the academy. 

Lorenz said she has done "a little bit of it all" with the builds, including putting down sheeting on the roof and strapping walls. 

"I just love working as a group and a team and seeing what all we can accomplish," Lorenz said. 

Lorenz plans to continue in the industry after high school and "work her way up," she said.  

Senior CJ Zlasto likes helping his community and getting to work with his hands.

He said he has learned a lot from his experiences. 

"I really like just seeing this come to life," Zlasto said. "We start with just a blank concrete slab, and all of the sudden we have the walls set up, and then the trusses. Then the roof is pretty much almost done."

McPherson said she was thankful for all the support and for the opportunity. 

"Every young man and every young woman who lifts a hammer or a nail, every donor, every person who sweat putting their hard work into our home, it will never be taken for granted," McPherson said. 

McPherson already has a plan for her what she will do for her home. 

"Pray, give thanks and have our family blessing. I was raised by immigrant grandparents and they never got to buy a home here...so this gift echoes through the generations," McPherson said. 

McPherson also talked to the students about their work. 

"Any time you want to drive by when you're older and be like, 'See that house, I build that' you just do that," McPherson said to the crowd. "And we are excited to work right along with you. Thank you guys so much for this gift of partnership." 

Adam Hatfield, a 2020 VHS graduate of the academy and inventory manager of MiCo Customs, 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 a huge deal," Hatfield said. "It's awesome that they're still doing this, and it's an opportunity, because there is a lot to go out and do."

Staff writer Garrett Shiflet can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5367, or garrett.shiflet@thevillagesmedia.com.