YDC class shows off shed built for Habitat

Hector Gonzela fits the picture of street-tough kid, his face a patchwork of tattoos, his arms and knuckles similarly inked.

He is one of about 30 students at Augusta's Youth Development Campus who are breaking stereotypes with what they build, however.

Students at the YDC bring a troubled past and felony conviction to their life behind the razor wire. Year-round classes of math and science are combined with instruction on life skills and trades they can use when they are released.

That's how Gonzela found himself holding a hammer this summer, pounding away at what would eventually become a small storage shed.

Six weeks later, he was proud to show off the structure to visitors.

"These were some new feelings," he said Tuesday about his satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.

The shop class at YDC has long been a proving ground for young carpenters, with instructor Larry Harris guiding them around band saws and drills.

The resulting plaques, benches and step stools usually have to be torn apart because there's no room for them in the dormitories on campus.

The storage shed is an exception. At 8 feet by 12 feet, it's one of the largest projects taken on by the summer shop class. The dimensions were carefully chosen because it soon will be transported to Habitat for Humanity's Augusta headquarters.

The shed has to fit through the gates that cut across the campus, Harris said.

About 30 students from several classes worked on the project for six weeks. Being mostly teenagers and novice carpenters, the students did make mistakes. The old saying about "measuring twice and cutting once" didn't always stick, Harris said.

"The snags were always a positive, though, because we could take it apart and learn from our mistakes," the instructor said.

Each student was given a chance to learn at his own pace and choose what part of the building he wanted to build.

Nicholas Hand, 19, for instance, had worked on past projects at the YDC, including a gazebo and a pavilion. The shed gave him some experience putting up walls and siding, although he found he preferred roofing.

"I like being off the ground," he said.

The YDC's students aren't keen to discuss their past; most give a bashful smile and a pat "wrong choices" response when asked how they arrived in Augusta's facility. Their focus is on their future after they reach the "outside."

Reginald Williams said he didn't have any real marketable skills before this project, but the building experience has equipped him with some bona fide trade skills he plans to use someday.

"I never thought I would do something like this," he said.