Construction Students Build Habitat for Humanity Homes on the Lumpkin County High Campus
Jasper Fouts watches patiently as Jay Eaton, a local volunteer, shows him and his Lumpkin County High classmates how to install vinyl siding on a home.
Moments later, Fouts is hard at work, cutting sections of siding for the Habitat for Humanity house his class is building on the school’s Dahlonega campus.
“I enjoy being able to do something hands-on,” says Fouts, a senior. “It’s better than doing business in front of a computer.”
These Lumpkin County CTAE students are getting the ultimate in a hands-on education. The Habitat project is there every day, waiting for them beneath a specially constructed pavilion next to instructor Jeff Bearinger’s carpentry workshop.
Slated for completion in fall of 2020, the home is the fourth Bearinger’s students have built on campus since 2017. Each finished home is transported by trailer to a local neighborhood to join other Habitat residences.
“I can teach them what I learned from my dad, who was a carpenter, but there’s nothing like hands-on,” Bearinger says. “It’s the way kids learn. When you build an entire house, they see it from the ground up. They’re getting a very well-rounded education in construction.”
Bearinger revels in his students’ successes, such as when “Jasper and another student framed up this house – the delight on their faces when we put those windows in and every one of them fit perfectly,” he recalls.
The Habitat homes are a true community affair. Each is funded by Gainesville philanthropists Mike and Lynn Cottrell through their Cottrell Foundation (which also was responsible for getting the pavilion built). Volunteers contribute their time and expertise: Retirees Don Kinder and Jim Miller show up almost every day, and Eaton – who works for North Georgia Aluminum, a custom fabricator based in Dahlonega – spends an afternoon on each project helping the students get started on siding the home.
“I love to see the kids get into it,” Eaton says. “If I can just get one kid interested in this kind of work, I’m satisfied. Even if they don’t make a career out of it, they still have skills they can use around the house.”
Bearinger’s Advanced Construction class is dedicated to work on the house, as well as other projects such as wheelchair ramps – more than 60 and counting. In fact, it was the ramp work that paved the way for the school’s association with Habitat for Humanity.
A local community activist, Butch Walker, asked Bearinger if his class could help fill a community need for a wheelchair ramp. “I said, ‘Sure,’” Bearinger remembers. “So he whips out this paper towel that’s got a plan on it. I said, ‘OK, we can do it, but you’re going to have to go get the wood.’ He said, ‘Well, I knew that, so the wood’s out back in my trailer.’
“We struck up this great friendship,” Bearinger continues. “After the first year of doing that, he said, ‘Let’s build a house.’ So we started the process of getting people on board – the principle, the superintendent – and they all bought into it. We ended up that first year building out in the grass [behind the school]. That was a drought year and we had only one rainout day. But Butch came to me the next February and said, ‘We need to get a pavilion,’ and I agreed.”
Bearinger contacted the Cottrell family, whose son was in one of his classes at the time. Their generosity resulted in what is now formally called the Cottrell Construction Barn, as well as ongoing sponsorship of the Habitat homes.
House number 4 in that sequence would have been completed in spring of 2020 had Covid-19 not interrupted. Construction resumed in the fall semester, and a fifth home will begin shortly after the current one is finished.
The homes are a win for everyone involved – the families who ultimately move into them and the students who not only gain the hands-on experience, but also learn the value of helping fellow citizens in need.
“For me, giving back is a big part of why I teach,” Bearinger says. “Everyone needs to give back. It allows the kids to see a need and be able to look back and say, ‘Wow, I’ve been a part of that.’ It’s more than just getting a grade; they can say, ‘I made a difference in somebody’s life.’”