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  • Writer's pictureGreater Springfield Habitat for Humanity

Community Works offers students hands-on learning at Habitat build sites

With so much to do on a chilly Saturday morning in early April, the Community Works team didn’t waste time. Divided into two groups, of three students each, they went to work at two Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity (GSHFH) build sites in Holyoke. One group installed windows, while the other set up scaffolding and mounted siding.

Community Works student Kel Spohn installs a window April 2 at a Holyoke build site.
Community Works student Kel Spohn installs a window April 2 at a Holyoke build site.

Community works is a pre-apprenticeship program that offers Springfield/Holyoke area residents the opportunity to learn and work in the building and transportation industries. The six-week program includes classroom and hands-on learning experiences. Upon completion of the schooling, students may apply for a state-registered apprenticeship program or transportation-industry employment. This group of 15 students began their session Feb. 8 and officially ended on April 9. Unofficially, students could opt to come out to the GSHFH build site for two additional Saturdays in April for more hands-on experience.

“There’s always plenty of work to do at any stage of building a house and this is great training for the students,” said Community Works Lead Instructor Greg Garfield, a retired carpenter who has taught in the pre-apprenticeship program for the past three years. “Due to their lack of training, it’s a better learning environment at this stage than when a house is farther along.

“This group is great, very enthusiastic,” Greg added. “They’ve come out here on cold February Saturdays and they soak up knowledge like crazy. Two of them – Kel Spohn and Rachel Leahey – are already working with carpenters.”

Kel Spohn (pronounced spoon), a 32-year-old from Northfield, said he bought a house in the past year, which ramped up his interest in carpentry. While working two jobs in the restaurant/café industry, he saw a Facebook post advertising Community Works. Now, he enjoys learning new skills, including window installation, and working with his hands.

“It’s instant satisfaction,” said Rachel, 19, of Hampden. The daughter of a carpenter, she said in recent years she knew she wanted a career in the trades as she enjoys working with her hands. She also said she has little interest in the typical professions following a college education. “Here, you go from a couple of pieces of wood to a whole house. It’s the most satisfying thing ever.”

Rachel said she learned about Community Works through a pipefitter friend who introduced her to Tradeswomen Tuesdays – information sessions geared toward women interested in working in the trades.

Michelle Kyser, 41, of Holyoke, said she also learned about Community Works through Tradeswomen Tuesdays and Google searches. She highly recommends the program.

Prior to signing up for Community Works, Michelle said she worked in finance and didn’t like sitting at a desk all day. She preferred to be outside, working with her hands, and fixing things. Community Works gave her that opportunity. Upon completion of the program, she said she would like to be an elevator constructor, which works with elevators and escalators. Her second choice is to become a plumber or pipefitter. Pipefitters build piping systems used for heating, hot water, cooling, and steam.

“It’s an awesome program for anyone at any age if they’re thinking about or trying to decide about a career in the trades,” Michelle said.

To learn more about Community Works, go to


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