By Adam Powell
On a sunny Saturday afternoon in Hillsborough, Chris Dittmer and a group of his Carrboro High School classmates came together to put the finishing touches on a street of homes they worked on for two years.
The students received a construction education as part of their work on the homes for their school’s Habitat for Humanity Club project.
“We were finishing up Odie Street, which is the main project that our Orange County Habitat brands have been working on for the past couple of years,” Dittmer said. “It’s almost done. The street is almost completely finished. And so that’s what we’re doing. We’re just painting rails and putting landscaping touches in, just as [the project] comes to a close.”
Dittmer started the high school’s Habitat for Humanity club in March of 2021 to fill a desire to aid the community with worthwhile projects. The project on Odie Street will provide a cluster of about 12 to 15 well-built, affordable homes just a few miles from downtown Hillsborough.
“I believe in the power of community service and helping others however you can,” Dittmer explained. “I began with a simple fundraiser that was shared virtually through our school meetings when our high school was still virtual due to COVID-19. The start of my sophomore year in August of the same year, the club with the advisement of Mr. Benjamin Basset was able to meet in person at school where we acquired around 30 members total.”
Dittmer and club Vice President Nicodemus Keenan reached out to the Orange County habitat organization to participate in Rake-A-Thon — a day-long fundraiser where volunteers rake and mow all over the community for donations.
Throughout the fall of 2021 and the following spring, Dittmer and his fellow members were able to go out and physically volunteer at HFH build sites like Odie Street in Hillsborough. In that time the club gained about 35 new members, bringing its total to 67, and participated in its second Rake-A-Thon in November. The organization also sent letters to congressional representatives advocating for the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act.
Recently, the club has been sending out groups of five to 10 to work in shifts on weekends and wrap up work on Odie Street. They are finishing front porches, yard work and little touches.
“It’s just exciting,” he added. “It’s been a rough time, especially for the last couple of years. It’s really important that things like this can get done, and then we’re able to go out and finish it. So it’s really gratifying. It really came from just a couple of piles of stuff to something that’s really complete, and something that’s really finished. And so I think that’s also really satisfying as well. And just sort of seeing how it turns into something; it’s a whole house that you live in. It’s so beautiful.”
The local Habitat launched The Equity Project at the beginning of November to assist with the builds. The student-led fundraising campaign aims to create more equal housing opportunities and address the discrepancy throughout Orange County
“We hope that through our fundraising and volunteer work we will be able to contribute to the solution for this major housing crisis here and in total across the United States,” Dittmer said.
The campaign has raised $4,600 of its $5,000 goal so far. Dittmer said he hopes to continue the campaign next year and pass the goal.
The Equity Project has a tier-based reward system where donors can receive HFH stickers, candy baskets, HFH shirts, and $50 Amazon gift cards. The club creates the stickers, pays for the candy, custom t-shirts and gift cards when redeemed by donors.
“We have been able to share the campaign through our school flyers, on social media using #HFHEquityProject, and through our JustGiving link,” Dittmer explained.
Dittmer said the students also learn practical skills working on Habitat home projects. They learn soft skills like collaboration and communication, but the students also receive crash courses in construction, from bricklaying to painting and carpentry.
“And then towards the end, you even do stuff like scaffolding, where you have to go out and start either assembling the roof, or just preparing the windows higher up that are a bit more elevated,” Dittmer said.
Dittmer and his classmates, including Keenan, would like to thank CHS Faculty Advisor Benjamin Bassett and Habitat for Humanity Orange County Engagement Manager Ansel Prichard for their mentorship and guidance throughout the Odie Street project.
Adam Powell is a reporter on local news and sports. A 2001 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, Powell has served as managing editor of multiple local publications, including the Mebane Enterprise, News of Orange County and TarHeelIllustrated.com. An education communications professional and political researcher, Powell is the author of four books and lives in Mebane with his wife and two children.