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Cleaning Up on Experience Through Service

Laundry experts generally advise against washing white clothes with colors, but these SkillsUSA HVAC students were happy to mix real-world experience with community service when they installed a laundry for a local nonprofit.
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James Vanhoose and Charles Staten working heating unit. Photo courtesy of Buckeye Hills Career Center.

Last school year, SkillsUSA students at Buckeye Hills Career Center (BHCC) in Rio Grande, Ohio, discovered that using their skills to help others benefitted them just as much as those they were helping. By using their professional development skills to plan a service project and their HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning) skills to install a laundry facility at a local nonprofit, these students gained some valuable life lessons to go with some crucial real-world experience in their trade.  

Founded by Greg and Lori Hall, Court Street Ministries helps community members in need in a variety of ways, from donating housing and utility payments to providing clothing, food, tents, home goods, toys and bedding. With the help of other businesses, Court Street also teaches life skills, helps with resume writing and offers opportunities for job interview practice. Court Street is all about giving, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have needs of their own. When the need for a new laundry facility became apparent, BHCC students stepped in to fill it.  

The project started with seven HVAC students, 12 SkillsUSA chapter officers and a few advisors creating a detailed project plan outlining responsibilities for the installation work and the collection of items needed for the project. The students were assigned responsibilities according to personal skill strengths, and they used checklists to ensure timely completion. They took an inventory of tools and supplies, prepared a material list, purchased supplies, and followed a step-by-step process for the plumbing and electrical work the project required.

With mentor guidance, the students demonstrated the top-tier skills they’d been developing in their classrooms. In just five days, they completed plumbing for four washers, installed a water line and drain, and completed the electrical wiring for four dryers.

They also initiated a school-wide collection, which resulted in donations of more than 1,200 laundry pods and 125 personal toiletry items.

“Working on the project helped me feel like I was bettering myself while helping my community,” says SkillsUSA officer Emily Scott. “We learned how to run plumbing for the washer,” Daniel Priddy, another SkillsUSA officer, chimed in. “It felt good to be able to give to the people who give so much to our community.”  

“Working with Court Street Ministries is so rewarding,” says SkillsUSA advisor Sue Burleson. “This organization is always looking for ways to give to the community. Recently, I witnessed Lori Hall brainstorming a post for the newest quest: an effort to gather shoes for kids going back to school. It’s just amazing to watch this woman in action.”

Through the project, students demonstrated a thorough understanding of a variety of the SkillsUSA Framework’s 17 Essential Elements, including Professional Development; Service Orientation Planning, Organization and Management and more. They responded to a local need, developed a well-coordinated plan and optimized their resources to carry out the project.

The project earned BHCC a gold-level “Chapter of Distinction” award in the SkillsUSA Chapter Excellence Program. The school was later named one of SkillsUSA’s top 24 Models of Excellence programs for 2022. “I’ve been involved with SkillsUSA for 32 years,” Burleson says. “When people ask why so long, I answer, ‘Because we change people’s lives through SkillsUSA.’ I recently saw Logan Rose, one of my 2019 SkillsUSA officers, helping at Court Street Ministries, and it made me proud. I have always tried to instill giving back to our students and I believe it has made a long-term difference in their lives.”

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