Building Trades, Education, Features, New York

Building Homes Teaches Students Construction Skills…And Something More

May 25, 2018

By Joe Maniscalco

New York, NY – Earlier this month, 27 students from Rockland Community College, along with five mentors, journeyed south on a mission to construct a pair of Habitat for Humanity homes for two deserving families in New Orleans. Blue Collar Buzz’ own Bill Hohlfeld was part of the Louisiana experience, and what he found teaching the college kids construction skills was both profound and enlightening. 

Bill Hohlfeld (far left, red shirt, hat) with RCC students and Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans.

“This is strictly on-the-job-training,” the retired Iron Worker, academic, novelist and podcaster said before returning to New York. “The quality [of the work] is excellent because they’re taking their time, they’re doing it slowly, and they’re paying attention.”

RCC students enrolled in courses far removed from construction skills and the Building Trades, nevertheless, threw themselves into sawing wood, sinking posts, pouring concrete, and lots more in New Orleans.

“I installed hardwood flooring last year; this year, we’re doing a wooden deck,” an RCC student named Lindsey said. “I’m actually in the nursing program so, I don’t do a lot of contraction on my off days. We do a little bit of everything. This definitely teaches me a lot. Including a lot of team building.”

RCC participates in similar out-of-state building projects every year, once the summer rolls around. Habitat for Humanity homeowners work side-by-side with volunteers, putting in 300- to 500-hours of work helping to construct their modest versions of the American Dream.  

“The people that are here, basically have a heart for helping other people,” said Michael VerSchneider, Catholic Campus Minister. “We’re doing a lot of finishing work. We have to put on a couple of front decks. We’re also doing painting and some flooring. We’re doing a little bit of everything.”

An RCC engineering student named Jerry said, “We’re just trying to enjoy ourselves and get the most out of this experience.”

For Bill, however, the work that Lindsey, Jerry and the rest of their RCC classmates performed in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity embodied a lot of different dimensions that extended far beyond a solidly built front porch. 

“One of the things I think that it’s also doing is, if I’m not mistaken, is fostering some respect,” Bill observed. “Not only are they doing good things for other people — they’re learning to respect people who work with their hands. Now, these kids are going to go into nursing and engineering, and a lot of different things like that — maybe take up different posts in academia. But when they leave here, they’re going to have some respect for people who are out there. And that’s what we need more of, isn’t it? More respect for one another?”

Not only are they doing good things for other people — they’re learning to respect people who work with their hands.

RCC Student Activities Coordinator Ann M. Gill modestly said, “We try to make sure our students are having a well-rounded core curriculum experience.”

Although this is Bill’s first out-of-state trip with Habitat for Humanity, he’s been volunteering with the group for about a year, helping to construct truly affordable homes for people around New York State. 

Like Bill himself, many of those volunteering to help Habitat for Humanity build homes are retired members of the unionized Building Trades. 

Said Bill, “When people can retire with dignity — that’s when they have the time in their lives to give back to the community.”

To find out more about Habitat for Humanity, go to For more information about Rockland Community College, located in Suffern, NY, visit And don’t miss an episode of LaborPress’ Blue Collar Buzz on iTunes, SoundCloud and AM970TheAnswer. 

May 25, 2018

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