Metro High School students salvage materials from buildings

The Gazette, Dec. 22, 1994
By Becky Stover
Gazette education writer

They’re building a better future

Metro students salvage materials from buildings

Ten Metro High School students are building their futures by tearing down houses.

The students, who went through a rigorous screening process, salvage reusable and recyclable materials out of buildings that are being demolished. They also do the promotions for the business and inventory the materials in their warehouse.

“We just give them the knowledge and the know-how,” said supervisor Michelle Eichelberger.

The program, called Eco Youth Salvage, is a joint effort between the Cedar Rapids high school and the Metro Area Housing Program (MAHP). The program’s grand opening is set for Jan. 13.

Students attend class half a day at Metro and work for Eco Youth three hours a day. They are paid $4.65 an hour.

Denise Brown, 16, feels she has a better outlook on life and is learning to be responsible and work with people.

“I didn’t usually go to school every day. I was always in a bad mood. Now I’m always looking forward to any day at work,” said Brown.

Darla Rinehart, 17, said the program has changed her attitude toward school and people.

“It taught me how to put up with people,” said Rinehart, who was promoted and works about 35 hours a week. “I want to be a lawyer, so that helps me learn how to argue with people but in a positive way.”

“Before this I couldn’t hold a job,” said Lisa Buckallew, 18. “It’s helped me a lot. It makes me feel good that we’re helping other people and helping the environment at the same time.”

Jay’Deden, 18, said he enjoys working outside. He said he has always been concerned about the environment and “I’ve learned how to do more about it rather than just complaining about it.”

“It’s really made me think about what I want to do when I grow up,” said Deden.

Rob Szabo, 18, grew up around construction workers and feels good because he can advise and motivate co-workers. “I knew some things, but this place helped me out,” said Szabo.

“We wanted to target youth who might have trouble finding jobs and at the same time provide affordable housing,” said Martha Aldridge, a consultant to MAHP.

Some materials salvaged are used by MAHP to cut the cost of fixing up old houses and providing affordable housing. Other materials are sold for salvage or to members of the community.

THE CITY OF Cedar Rapids benefits because the program reduces materials going to the landfill and it creates affordable housing, Eichelberger noted.

The warehouse is chock full of doors, windows, light fixtures, cabinets, door knobs, carpeting and “anything we think we can reuse,” she said.

So far the students have salvaged materials out of six houses that were being demolished to make way for the expanded Johnson Avenue Hy-Vee. Several other items have been donated.

EICHELBERGER SAID everyone learned a lot in the initial salvaging job.

“The difference between the first house we salvaged and the last one is incredible. The last one — we stripped it down to nothing.”

For instance, most metal, including iron weights in old windows, can be removed and sold to scrap companies.

“I’m amazed at the sense of ownership these youth have taken in the program,” said Eichelberger. “It’s a big thing because a lot of these kids don’t have a sense of ownership in anything else.”

While the program provides a cushion under the students so they get support to be successful, youth who don’t perform can be fired, said Aldridge.

The goal is for the salvage operation to be self-supporting in two years. More students will be hired as the business grows.

Money to start up the business came mainly from donations. The city of Cedar Rapids has contributed $40,000, Hy-Vee $20,000 and Firstar Bank $13,000. MAHP received a $25,000 flood relief grant from the county for the program. Marion Mobile Home Court donated a trailer that the students use as a break room.