For many of us, high school was a time of struggling with questions regarding identity and self-worth. Some kids would rather escape than face the pressures of growing up and navigating what feels like an overwhelming terrain of emotions and expectations. In this competitive and ever-changing world, how do we teach our kids the value of hard work, problem solving, and teamwork, while simultaneously preparing them for college or life after high school? How do we give them the practical tools, skills, and real-world experience often required on resumes and college applications?
In the city of New Orleans, where motivated and creative individuals often see complex problems as endless opportunity, a nonprofit has partnered with local high schools to answer some of these tough questions and reach kids on a deeper level. This month, we are excited to introduce our Community Connect client Aaron Frumin, the Founder and Executive Director of the nonprofit organization unCommon Construction.
In 2005, Aaron Frumin put college on hold to respond to Hurricane Katrina by volunteering with the Red Cross. Later that year, he took his first job in construction as the least-skilled worker at a day labor company in the Reno-Tahoe area. On the worksite, Aaron found himself profoundly surprised and rewarded by the mental and physical rigor and satisfaction of a hard day’s work. When he joined AmeriCorps’ National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) the following year, he was excited to sharpen his skills and apply them to the recovery efforts across the Gulf Coast. He went on to lead community volunteers, AmeriCorps, and partner families in rebuilding the city for the next three years as a House Leader with New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, where he loved teaching people new skills through a shared and empowering experience. After these rewarding endeavors, Aaron went back to school and earned his teaching degree at Tulane University before spending three years at a middle school in Colorado teaching reading and social studies through Teach for America. Throughout his journey, Aaron learned valuable lessons about teamwork and selflessness. He also discovered how strong a collective impact can be and developed a more personal understanding of the deeply rooted problems facing our communities.
unCommon Construction uses the “build process” to teach New Orleans high school students through a “work-based learning experience in a real-world classroom.” Students from five local high schools apply to join a diverse team and work together to build a house during a semester. The application process is based on age, academic proficiency, and career ambition. These kids come together every Saturday, working more than 100 hours each semester to earn hourly pay (above minimum wage), bonuses, and school internship credit for building a house. When the house is sold on the market, proceeds from each project are used for an Equity Award Scholarship, which matches apprentice’s earnings to use for further education, industry certifications, and tools for future employment. Additionally, with help of volunteers, support from foundations, and in-kind donations, unCommon Construction is able to essentially recycle about 10-15% of working capital back into its internship program for the next project.
The build process is necessary to the revitalization of many New Orleans neighborhoods and unCommon Construction supports communities in need while providing students with an incredible experience. These projects are not only new homes for residents but symbols in the community of what we can do when we collaborate and work together. We don’t grow when things are easy; we grow when we face challenges. The process of building a house is filled with challenges that force kids to get out of their comfort zone, be present, communicate, work as a team, and learn to solve problems. It inspires growth mindset, creativity, self-worth, and confidence in one’s abilities. The Witry Collective is proud to support unCommon Construction and has sold two of their properties in the last year. Josh Walther will be listing their next project in July 2018!
unCommon Construction has built eight homes in eight semesters, hired more than 80 students, and paid them approximately $80,000 in earnings and scholarships. If you are interested in uncommon Construction’s availability for hire on projects for homeowners and residents throughout the city, please visit www.uncommonconstruction.org and follow the nonprofit on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@uCCNOLA).