Students from Saugerties gain real-world career experience while helping Habitat for Humanity

Ulster BOCES Electrical construction and maintenance students from Saugerties Central School District, Jonathan Toth (left) and Kaitlyn Lennon, work together to hang the electrical panel at the Habitat for Humanity house in Glasco. (Photos courtesy of Kristine Conte | Ulster BOCES)

A crew of Ulster Boces students from the Saugerties School District are “paying it forward” by helping build a home for a family of five through Habitat for Humanity (Ulster Habitat), a nonprofit organization that recruits volunteers to build affordable homes for those in need. Most of the students are enrolled in the two-year Ulster Boces electrical construction and maintenance program. These students are using the skills they have learned in class to help build a home on Donna’s Way in Glasco.

Students participating in the project include seniors Kaitlyn Lennon, Dylan Senor, Jonathan Toth and juniors Dale Wolgamuth, Ian Foster and Ben Rappoport.

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“I’m proud to be working on a project like this,” said electrical student Kaitlyn Lennon, one of four girls in the program. “How cool is it that I get to help make a family’s dream of homeownership come true?”

“I’m so impressed with all of the student volunteers,” said Ulster Habitat project manager Peter Tirc. “They are always ready and willing to jump in and help out; they always come to work with smiles on their faces.”

Habitat for Humanity house at Donna’s Way.

The Saugerties students travel to the work site on asynchronous learning school days to hone their electrical skills. This opportunity also gives students the chance to shadow other trade professionals, including carpenters, painters and masons at the work site.

Saugerties guidance counselor and lead project advisor Michael Catalano, who holds a master electrician’s license, said he was “proud to watch these kids in action.” Through Catalano’s guidance, the students help rough-in the electrical wiring (cables which are pulled through the studs and arranged inside the walls), plan out the location of electrical outlets and install receptacle boxes.

Even though the students are working inside an enclosed structure, there is no heat, so it can get pretty cold, said Catalano. Working in low temperatures not only requires proper clothes, but also calls for a good mindset. Catalano recalled one cold afternoon when Saugerties senior Jonathan Toth was the only student who came to the job site to help work on the electrical panel. Catalano said he pushed Toth hard that day and talked about the importance of exhibiting good workmanship. Later, the construction manager took notice of Toth’s clean work and complimented him on it. “It feels really good to have a skill that can help others,” remarked Toth.

Throughout the build, the future homeowners (drawn from the local community) invest their own “sweat equity” before they are allowed to take ownership. Every Ulster Habitat family must meets three criteria: a need for housing, the ability to pay an affordable mortgage and a willingness to invest between 200 and 400 hours of ‘sweat equity.

The last house is expected to be completed some time in the spring.