Rebuilding Detroit Through Educating the Youth in Skilled Trades

Local charter school and construction industry partners join together to restore community and provide career training

When Cornerstone Schools saw a need for career training in the construction industry, as well as communities in need of rehabilitation, Clark Durant, CEO of Cornerstone Schools, reached out to his training partners, ABC of Southeast Michigan. Working together, his vision has evolved into a project that has become “The Hartwell House Project.”

Since its creation, Cornerstone School’s culture involves a unique character program that has laid the foundation on which they have built their schools over the last 28 years. Located in the heart of Detroit, Cornerstone Schools has several Charter School campuses with plans for continued growth.

Andy Anuzis, Chief Career Officer of Cornerstone Schools, was tasked with developing the Hartwell House project in connection with the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and other organizations in the Detroit area. Andy has a long history of involvement with ABC and was the President of ABC of Michigan prior to his current role with Cornerstone Schools. In describing ABC’s desire to be involved in the project, President of ABC of Southeast Michigan Keith Ledbetter explains, “Cornerstone Schools have long been recognized as a place where kids of various backgrounds and means are given the tools to be successful in life. We were excited to partner with them on this neat project.”

What is the Hartwell House Project?

“It is a home that is in the campus of Cornerstone Schools. The whole premise is to rehabilitate the house, but also use recent graduates to do the work so that they can develop construction skills for employment. They want to continue to build out the community of this school, until the community as a whole is a safer place for the schools and more desirable place for kids to grow up in.” says Mickey Mortimer, Vice President of ABC SEMI.

Connecting ABC Member businesses in the construction industry to work for a united cause was one of the ABC’s original goals. To accomplish this goal, ABC SEMI has brought in ABC member companies Douglas Electric and Expert Heating & Cooling. Paige Levy, President of Douglas Electric, saw an opportunity to get involved when two of their interns became involved in the project and they saw a chance to reconnect. “We see the gap for the kids to be able to cross over from high school into the skilled trades and are always looking for ways to help the industry and the young people to have a career in the skilled trades.” Cornerstone Schools have also gained support from a variety of other volunteers and donors. All labor is done by the students.

The “Justin 8”

Cornerstone Schools aims to assist in areas where there is a lot of need, but where there is also a lot of hope, determination, and hard work. Leading the first cohort of students at the Hartwell House is a group known as the “Justin 8.” The group name is coined after Justin, a former student at SEMCA’s Jump Start Program at Cornerstone, who gathered the first 8 students to join the project. Andy emphasizes the critical role that they play in the project, “The Justin 8 and other Cornerstone students will serve as laborers and assist and learn throughout the renovation process.”

Cornerstone Elements in Place

CEO of Cornerstone Schools, Clark Durant, is motivated to provide leadership in the project. They have also provided a full-time Construction Manager, Nick Graham, to oversee the cohort of students. Cornerstone will also put in place a team of character leaders to pour into the young men. Col. Lloyd Sutton and Jeff Petherick will lead this team. Cornerstone also hopes to be able to utilize the rectory located on the campus as a boarding facility, provided they are able to line up a house chaperone.

What is ABC’s role in the development of the project?

$40,000 in free labor and materials are pledged by ABC. More than $25,000 of HVAC, electrical work, and materials have been pledged by ABC member companies: Expert Heating & Cooling and Douglas Electric. The contributions for materials originated from Associated Builders & Contractors trade association via Vice President Mickey Mortimer and Faithworks. Led by Jeff Petherick, Faithworks is a group of retired construction contractors and trades from Kensington Church who will work alongside the contractors and students.

Current Status

18 Cornerstone alums, many of whome are also alumni of the SEMCA “Jumpstart” program at Cornerstone, are enrolled in the construction pre-apprentice class offered in partnership with EITI (Emerging Industries & Technologies Institute). The alums have completed 1/3 of a 12-week pre-apprentice program. EITI and Construction Manager Graham plan to harmonize EITI’s 12-week training program with the Hartwell House project in order to create a general scope and sequence of learning so the pre-apprentices know what to expect.

Alumni work has begun on the house. The Character team led by Lloyd Sutton and Jeff Petherick are meeting the alums in small groups, helping with transportation and solving other essential needs. Nicole Webster is diving into the enormous task of solving property related issues. Architectural plans are finalized and submitted to the city of Detroit and are approved.

The ultimate goal is to launch 18 construction careers this spring. The program is on track to graduate this cohort and connect them to construction jobs. A group of 6–8 guys within the larger cohort of 18 want to live in the rectory on the campus and will keep the Hartwell House project going after the 12-week pre-apprentice course has concluded. These “Hartwell Scholars” will receive character and faith formation. There will be a new Cornerstone alum construction cohort in late June, picking up graduating seniors and other alums. It will take two cohorts to finish the house — the hope is to have the Hartwell House renovation done by August of this year.