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Unlocking potential through hands-on training

In a quiet neighborhood in Deerfield, WI, there are plenty of gorgeous, new family homes. One home located at 239 W. Nelson Street looks just like the rest, but there is something special about it.

“Everything you see here was done by the young adults with some help from supervisors,” said Steve Gardner, Build Academy Program Manager, “Look around the neighborhood, look at the houses that surround it, and you tell me the difference. There is none. They did a phenomenal job.”

The 1,600 square feet house features three bedrooms, 2 full bathrooms, walk-in closet, three-stall garage, and walkout basement. Besides the plumbing, electric, HVAC, and gutter work, the entire house was constructed from the ground up by participants in Build Academy, Operation Fresh Start’s construction training program. The house went up for sale on March 20 for $469,000 with Stark Company Realtors. To date, it is the highest value house that OFS has constructed.

“By working on a house like this, you get real experience, and it puts you ahead of everyone else,” said Elijah, Build Academy participant, “You get a feel for what construction is really like, the pace of it. I learned a lot.”

Construction took place between November 2022 and February 2024 with over thirty participants working on the house. On March 7, an open house was held to celebrate its completion and the young adults, program supervisors, and partners who contributed to it. County Materials, Stevens Construction, Fabick Rents, and Jaeckle Distributors donated select materials and tools for the house. Funding for Build Academy is provided by the Workforce Innovation Grant, which is administered by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD).

“Oh, my gosh, I watched the video online, and I will tell you, it does not do it justice,” said Danielle Williams, Assistant Division Administrator at the Wisconsin DWD, “This house really is a remarkable achievement. It also demonstrates just what has been accomplished through the Workforce Innovation Grant program.”

Build Academy was created in 2022 as advanced construction training for young adults ages 18-24 pursuing a career in the trades. The only prerequisite is a high school diploma or equivalency. In the program, participants learn everything from math fundamentals to advanced skills, plus they receive career coaching and help landing a job in the trades. OFS’s model prioritizes mentorship and personal development alongside career readiness.

“There can be family issues, chronic health conditions, flat tires, court dates, hangovers, unplanned pregnancies. Overall, there’s a fear that participants may fail because there are so many obstacles. Why should we bother?” said David Redwine, crew supervisor, in his speech, “It’s because an environment like this is the perfect playground to test yourself. To see if you’ve got what it takes to solve problems and move forward. Participants may not have realized it when they signed on for OFS, but just taking on that commitment is as commendable as climbing up a 24-foot extension ladder to a snow-covered roof in the middle of winter. Remember, this house is physical proof that you have learned many new skills and used them to make something of value.”

“The supervisors really are there for you,” said J, 2022 Legacy alum and 2023 Build Academy participant, “They understand you. You just have to reach out. They have been the most helpful people, genuine mentors throughout the whole experience. Working on this house taught me so much. They really pushed me to be all I could be.”


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