Mike Christen | The Daily Herald | Original Article
Build and Learn, Inc., Columbia’s nonprofit organization dedicated to helping those out of work learn employable skills in home building and renovation, just got a major boost of support, and it rolled in on four wheels.
The organization’s founder Quinton Jones has long struggled to get supplies to build sites for students. Now, with a Ford F-150 truck donated to the organization by the Lee Company and other local supporters, Jones said the projects will take less time to complete and keep both students and those having their homes renovated from waiting.
The truck also came equipped with thousands of dollars of equipment, including new power tools, ladders and other safety equipment.
“I think I have enough tools, ladders and safety equipment to build a house,” Jones said. “I am excited about the pressure this has taken off of the organization.”
Since 2008, Build and Learn has offered training programs in home building and renovation for citizens struggling to find work, and provides those students’ services to veterans and disadvantaged citizens in need.
It was initially launched in Nashville at Pearl Cohn High School to prepare students for both a trade and for college and his since found a new purpose in Columbia.
In recent years, the organization has seen success helping individuals who have previously served time in prison and have had difficulty finding work elsewhere. More than 40 people have found opportunities in the field after participating in Build and Learn program.
“It’s a mission, a calling,” Jones said of the organization. “Participants learn about safety and team work. We are recruiting people who didn’t finish high school that can’t get into community college or trade school. We are trying to fill that void and offer a path to a trade that they normally would not have. We try to provide a path that does not otherwise exist.”
The courses offered by Build and Learn range from general maintenance to heavy equipment operations. It provides a training opportunity for those who may have previously dropped out of school or struggle to find employment due to a past criminal record.
A Build and Learn course typically lasts about 12 weeks, with classes ranging in size from four to eight students.
Jones said the new truck brings a boost to the program offering a means to quickly transport materials to build sites, a means the organization has not had until now.
“There are a lot of materials that I can get for free for the program, if I can pick them up,” Jones said. “It is going to make it easier to complete projects. It’s time we are saving.”
He said the truck, a decommissioned vehicle from the Lee Company’s Tennessee fleet, will allow jones to collect additional donations.
Photos by Mike Christen/The Daily Herald
“Sometimes have people would have appliances and different things they want to give away, but we didn’t have a way of getting them,” Jones said. “After they have participated in the program, I can give them a recommendation that will make them more employable.”
Richard C. Perko, the president and CEO of the Lee Company, played a key role in making sure the truck was given to the Columbia organization, Jones said.
In September of 2020, the Lee Company awarded Build and Learn a $10,000 donation.
“Through Build & Learn, Quinton is integrating two missions that we share a passion for at Lee Company: teaching the skilled trades and serving those in our community that need assistance, including many of our veterans,” Perko said in a public statement shared by the compnay. “Quinton is a vet himself, and I want to thank him for following the call to serve our country in the past, and now our community. I also want to thank our many sponsors for helping us provide Build & Learn with the equipment and tools included with this truck. Together we can all make a difference in our communities.”
Touted as a $300 million business, the Lee Company, the family business of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, offers services from domestic HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and appliance repair to large construction projects.
“Our mission is to honor God for our work, and one of the ways we do that is to give back to our communities … and Quinton’s mission really mirrors ours in respect to building tradespeople, but also education, helping people in need and definitely our veterans,” Perko told The Daily Herald when awarding the check. “We have a huge need for tradespeople, but we need them to get that first step, develop life skills and get their hands dirty a little bit, and then we can train them from there. I think this is a great partnership for us.”
That December, Build and Learn assisted Thompson’s Station resident Dale Grissom, a 66-year-old veteran of the U.S. Navy who served in the Vietnam War, who was in need of a ramp at his home.
Three program participants learned skills in carpentry and excavation when building the ramp at the Grissom home under the leadership of Build and Learn instructor Kenneth Duke.
In 2017, the Build and Learn team was dispatched to West Burt Drive in Columbia, where they assisted in painting the ceiling of a 22-year veteran.
Due to one perforated disk and another bulged disk in his back, the former Air Force jet engine mechanic is unable to repaint the ceilings in his home. Jones and his fellow instructors were there to brush the toughest and highest corners of the house with precision.
A year later, Build and Learn constructed a ramp for Ret. Command Sgt. Major William ‘Skip’ Bottoms, a wheelchair-bound 40-year veteran of the National guard who was diagnosed with ALS two years earlier.
This summer, program student Chris Head was taught by local contractor Bubba Moss in renovating a bathroom in the home of Charles E. Baxter on Eastland Drive in Columbia.
Participating students also recently completed fitting a new drainage system at the rear of the home.
About $3,000 in funds donated by Legends Restaurant, First Farmers and Merchants Bank and the Lee Company are being used to finance the project.
“I think a lot of it,” said Baxter, who has lived in the home for nearly half a century, and retired after 30 years making tires for Firestone and then Bridgestone in La Vergne.
Upon completion of the program, a group of Build and Learn graduates recently completed road improvements to Monsanto Road in Maury County.
A former school librarian and school teacher, Jones said the program also works to implement the same lessons taught in high school including mathematics and reading comprehension. He previously worked as project developer for general contractor Hood Company, LLC where he spent much of his time building low income housing in Nashville. Jones is also a former director of the Middle Tennessee Diversity Contractors Association. The Nashville-based organization consists of 150 members.
Since the program moved to Columbia, Build and Learn students have completed more than 30 projects in Maury County.
“We just want to help people in the community who need help but can’t afford it,” Jones said. “I get a lot of joy out of it. It is a real joy for me. I think I have found my purpose.”
Jones said build and learn relies on the support of community partners to fund each project, so the organization is continually seeking support to make sure the next project can be seen to fruition.
To contact Build & Learn visit https://buildlearn.org/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mike Christen is the multimedia editor for The Daily Herald. Reach him by email at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeChristenCDH and @Michaelmarco on Instagram.