For a group of Whittier Regional High carpentry students, their work with Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity is far more than an opportunity to hone their trade — it's also a way to give back to local families.

The 12 students, all seniors at the Haverhill school, along with carpentry instructor Mike Sandlin, began working on a partially completed single-family home and a partially completed duplex in September 2019 on Old County Road in Salisbury. They're working in a partnership with Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity, which had begun building the homes but needed help to complete them.

Habitat volunteers also built a second duplex at the site with help from Whittier students.

"They reached out to us and we've been going strong ever since," Sandlin said.

Whittier's carpentry students are well on the way to completing one side of one duplex, while Habitat workers are building the other side. Whittier electrical students also got involved, rough wiring the single-family property. Now they will move on to the duplex.

"Once we get the duplex completely framed, we'll pitch in to work on the single family," Sandlin said. "We're helping wherever we are needed."

Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit organization that recruits volunteers to build affordable homes in partnership with families in need, including families of military veterans.

Founded in 1985, Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity is a local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International.

Emerson Dahmen, building director for Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity, said the help from Whittier electrical and carpentry students helped speed up the project.

"They're framing one unit while our volunteers are framing another, so they are doubling our speed," he said, "and the quality of their work is excellent."

"It’s really amazing,” said Whittier student Jared Recillas,18, of Haverhill. “I actually get to use a lot of the stuff I’ve been learning for the past three years.”

“It’s a really good cause, using our skills to help those who are struggling,” said Whittier student Nick Glynn, 17, of Haverhill.

“This is who we are,” said student Alanna Stafford, 18, of Haverhill. “We are Whittier Tech and we give back to our community.”

During their shop week, the students leave Whittier's campus each morning and work in all types of weather.

"I treat this as if were a real job site," Sandlin said.

Whittier students participating in the project include seniors Killian Barry, Nicholas Glynn, Jared Recillas, Angel Alvarado, Angelica Cintron, Siarra Cronin, Jacob Goodhue, Cody Littlefield, Jyrell Ruiz, Alanna Stafford, Tyler Wetherbee and Emily Wilson, all of Haverhill.

"This introduces us to the kind of jobs we are going to get in life," Stafford said. "It’s everything we’ve been taught."

Sandlin said his students built and installed a tool organizer and shelving unit with drawers in their work trailer, which helps keep things organized.

"The students have been enthusiastic and have been working hard on this project," he said. "They're getting real life, job site, hands-on experience that's important to have if they want to pursue this as a career."

Once the buildings are completed, low-income families from the area will move into the homes.

Dahmen said the families' investment includes "sweat equity" — they must volunteer their time to the Habitat organization before they can take ownership of their Habitat home.

"They pay a mortgage, but it's a very low-interest mortgage they can't get from another finance source," Dahmen said. "We don't make any profit on the homes."

He said the land these homes are being built on was donated to Habitat by the Institution for Savings in Newburyport.

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