In the spring of 1999, Daryl Folkerts, the Executive Director of Manhattan Habitat for Humanity (MHfH), came up with a idea to help some disenfranchised high school students get excited about education and given them prospects for future success. This idea would also help ease the low-income housing problem in Manhattan, Kansas.
Folkerts created a project where local builders would train a Manhattan High School (MHS) class and build a home in conjunction with MHfH. He convinced the Manhattan Area Builder’s Association (MABA) to provide technical expertise and training. MHfH agreed to coordinate, publicize, and fund the project, and the Unified School District (USD) 383 and MHS created a combined technical English, math, and construction science class so the students could learn construction and build the house. When the fall 1999 semester began, Bob Kelly’s Technical English class began construction on MHfH’s 8th home.
This collaborative effort of MHfH, MABA, and USD 383/MHS, known as Manhattan Student Mabitat, concurrently deals with two major community ills: isolated marginal high school students and lack of affordable housing. Annually, too many MHS students drop out because they are not interested in education, which appears to have no relevance to the real world. This is particularly true for students who are not college-bound.
The Student Mabitat program has been wildly successful with a long list of students wanting to get into the classes. Many youth reported they would have dropped out of school had it not been for this class. Other students came back to high school to take this class so they could move on to construction careers. Young people are now excited about their education and the opportunity to learn and serve at the same time.
Folkerts worked with the project from day one and remained the major figure in its success. He is a builder and the owner and operator of two local construction businesses. In addition to that, he served as Executive Director of MHfH. His work on the Student Mabitat, however, far exceeds the time for which he was compensated. He worked every Saturday to construct MHfH homes, and during the week, he was in class with the students and their instructors on training and building five days. Additionally, he has worked diligently to get local construction suppliers to donate building materials and get other businesses and individuals to donate money to fund this project, making this the least expensive house MHfH has ever built.