Community rallies for building scholarship money

SEE RELATED STORY: Building trades program teaches skills, leadership

By Casey Hans
AAPSNews Service

A declining housing market has taken its toll on funding for Ann Arbor’s 40-year-old student building program in the last few years, but organizers have mobilized so that scholarships for students and annual building projects may continue.

Teams of area professionals involved with the Ann Arbor Student Building Industry Program have banded together for a fund-raising drive to keep the scholarships on solid ground. The group began its effort one year ago and to date has brought in about 20 percent of its $125,000 goal in cash donations or pledges. About 70 professionals from the Ann Arbor community are working to get pledges over a four-year period.

Expenses including building sites, materials and memorial scholarships have been funded by private cash and in-kind donations, said board members. The exception to that are the two program instructors who are employed by The Ann Arbor Public Schools.

Over 40 years, about $100,000 in scholarships has been given out to students. About 1,000 students have been involved.

“It’s a very successful program,” said AASBIP scholarship chairman Tom McMullen of McMullen Company, an Ann Arbor real estate development and management company. “This scholarship is a necessity to keep the program going.”

McMullen said the nonprofit program made enough money to be sustainable until the past few years when the housing market tumbled and housing prices dipped.

The AASBIP has built one house for each year of its existence and has been a solid training ground for the building trades industry, said Joyce Hunter, administrator for secondary education for The Ann Arbor Public Schools.

The current building site is part of a multiple-lot neighborhood called Sumerset, where 11 home sites were purchased for the program; students are building on the fifth site this year. Each time a student-built house is sold, proceeds have helped to pay for housing sites as well as three, four-year scholarships for students, Hunter said.

McMullen noted that because the program only accepts about 25 to 30 students each year, they have a good chance at getting a scholarship. “We really get some exceptional students,” he added.

Three four-year scholarships are named after the program’s founders: Henry S. Landau, $1,500 per year; Earl Shaffer, $1,000 per year; and James Weldon, $1,000 per year. Landau was a local builder Shaffer ran the district’s vocational education program and Weldon was a local banker. Students can attend the college of their choice and Birko said some have attended building trades programs at Michigan State University, Ferris State University and Eastern Michigan University. Many students go on to attend Washtenaw Community College, which Birko said has a “top notch” program.

McMullen noted that it’s important to keep the program viable and funded so that it doesn’t lose momentum.

“We are bidding more aggressively with suppliers and doing everything we can think of to keep our program alive,” he said, adding that the fundraising effort is holding its own. “We’re not hitting the jackpot, but we’re not being shut out. Our team members are picking up a lot of steam.”

Hunter said the program under the direction of teacher John Birko continues to be unique. “You can see the pride of the students,” she said. “His approach is very student-centered. He teaches them more than building skills.”

To make a donation, make checks payable to:
“AASBIP” (Ann Arbor Student Building Industry Program) and mail to:
Christine Hill, Membership and Education Director
Builders and Remodelers Association of Greater Ann Arbor (Formerly the Home Builders Association of Washtenaw County)
179 Little Lake Dr., Ann Arbor, MI 48193
Details: 734-996-0100.

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