Rebuilding More Than Just a House

Construction students working on home.

At West-MEC, community service is an integral part of all programs and helps to teach students life-long lessons and values. The General Construction Technology instructor, Charlie Ellis, provides students with a unique opportunity to give back to their community.

Along with teaching at West-MEC, Ellis is the founder of Operation Enduring Gratitude (OEG), a nonprofit that assists the veteran community in Arizona by filling in the gaps left by other services. 

"There's a personal satisfaction with helping somebody that can't help themselves and that, I hope, will carry them more through life than swinging a hammer," Ellis said in an interview with ABC 15.

Ellis’ students got their first chance to give back by helping LaGean Levar. Levar lost her husband Phillip, a navy veteran, and was forced to move out of her house in downtown Glendale as the city deemed it condemned. She was unsure of what was going to happen or what her next move was going to be.

But then, OEG stepped in. They undertook renovations of the dilapidated house and worked to restore it into a place Levar could call home again. While OEG was working on Levar’s house, Ellis wanted to bring in students from his class to see the impact of the construction field on the community.

On the first Friday of February, a busload of high school students landed at Levar’s home, ready to participate in the renovation process. 

“The class is here to make a tangible difference while seeing the real-life application of techniques learned in the lab. They will be coming back a few more times to help in the restoration process,” said Ellis.

Students repaired cracked masonry joints, filled gaps with bricks and cinder blocks, replaced windows, and assisted with electric installations. The high schoolers also received guidance from industry partners like AZ Masonry Council and Avanti windows.

“It feels great to use the skills that I’ve learned in class while also giving back to the community,” a student of the program Ximena Navarro said.

While honing their skills and putting what they’ve learned to the test in a real-life situation, they also had the chance to help someone who needed it. A perfect situation for the students to learn from, not just as students, but as people too.

“I’d like to thank the students, Operation Enduring Gratitude, and others who have helped in the restoration process,” said Levar.