A transformation is taking place inside a dilapidated, 60-year-old house on 12th Avenue in Rock Island.
While the outside looks old and faded, the inside is almost completely gutted, with walls exposed down to the frame and a torn-up floor covered in dust, disturbed by moving feet.
Normally, this setting would be filled with a bustling construction crew. Instead, three masked faces make slow-but-steady progress in the belly of the house.
Michael Fuentes, 18, pulled nails out of the wall and cleared debris in what will become the kitchen. The Rock Island native graduated from Thurgood Marshall Learning Center just a few weeks ago. And while his learning in the classroom may be over, Fuentes comes to the house every afternoon to learn skills in demolition, carpentry, plumbing and more.
Fuentes and other Thurgood Marshall students and graduates, alongside students from Arrowhead Ranch, have come together under a partnership between Project NOW and YouthBuild Quad Cities to renovate the house, getting it ready for a veteran and their family to live.
People are also reading…
"Honestly I think it's pretty great," Fuentes said. "I actually like doing this stuff."
The house is the first of six so-called "Honor Homes" Project NOW plans to offer as affordable rental properties to veterans or essential and front-line workers. The nonprofit has partnered with youth education organization YouthBuild Quad Cities on the project, allowing students in the program to renovate the properties themselves while learning transferable skills in construction and safety.
Project NOW Executive Director Dwight Ford reached out to YouthBuild Quad Cities Executive Director Rufus Greer Jr. Greer had kids interested in learning construction but a lack of sites to work on, and Ford had houses but needed people to renovate them.
"It's been a fantastic union, in terms of what their needs are, and what our needs are and how they both mesh," Greer said.
YouthBuild Quad Cities members have been working with professionals since the start of the project, Greer said, learning about workplace safety and how to use different tools before the renovation process even began. They'll learn more skills as the project progresses, in plumbing, wiring, design and other areas.
They're currently in the demolition stage, and Ford said they hope to have the house fully renovated in a handful of months. Students involved with the renovations, graduated or not, are also getting paid for their time with a stipend from YouthBuild Quad Cities.
Fuentes said he's most excited to learn more about wiring the house. He plans to work in construction full-time and said he's learned a lot so far.
As a third-generation combat veteran, Ford said he's always been proud of the Quad-Cities Honor Flight and wanted to take that idea of honoring those who have served and offer concrete support in the form of housing. Should Project NOW not find a veteran to rent to, the property will be open to public servants and essential workers, such as teachers and nurses.
Before the house is finished, Ford said Project NOW will start designing the selection process to find a family and, hopefully, announce the new tenants when the house itself is move-in-ready.
"I am really happy not just about what (the students are) building and what they are renovating, and helping design for some future family," Ford said. "But, I'm also happy and celebratory for what they're building and designing for their own lives. They go hand in hand."
He said the "Honor Homes" project helps different groups simultaneously, all with the same end goal: To end the causes of poverty. In this case by providing both affordable housing and useful job skills.
"When you make an investment into human beings — people — we all reap a lifetime of rewards," Ford said.
As for the students, Greer said it's been impressed upon them that this house will make a real impact on someone's life. It's both a privilege and a responsibility to renovate a home for a family, and the lessons they learn in that house will go with them for the rest of their lives.
"They will come in, they will see people admiring their work … and they'll be able to say that they refurbished this house, and there's a family in there that is extremely happy with the finished product," Greer said. "And that's where the pride will come in."