Building a house can teach you a lot.

Abby Hartung picked up power tool skills and CPR training, She learned to measure, lay down vinyl flooring, install a closet, seal windows, assemble cabinets. She got the hang of it as she went, while professional contractors showed her and 73 other young people how to build houses. 

Abby Hartung inspects a closet she helped build.

Abby Hartung inspects a closet she helped build.

Emily Cureton/OPB

“From the ground up,” 21-year-old Hartung said. “From the dirt to the concrete, to the framing, to the floor, to the walls. Everything. It’s been really really cool.”

She’s part of Heart of Oregon YouthBuild. The program gives job training and a small stipend to people between 16 and 24. In exchange, they work to build new, rent-to-own houses for people with agricultural jobs. The youth crew just finished the last of six homes in the Casa Soñada subdivision, a cul-de-sac in Madras.

Hartung said besides learning the tools of the construction trade, the program helped her nail down the last credits she needed for a high school diploma.

This cul-de-sac in Madras is home to six houses built by youth crews since 2015. 

This cul-de-sac in Madras is home to six houses built by youth crews since 2015. 

Emily Cureton/OPB

She talked about her plans for the future on the ribbon-cutting day for the final Casa Soñada house. She took off her shoes before she went in and looked proudly around the master bedroom, admiring its clean bright lines one last time.

Jose Arzate looked around the same room and felt his son’s hands.

His son Angel was part of the YouthBuild crew. He represented it on a trip to Washington, D.C., before, at 18, he was killed in a car wreck. Angel liked to run, play the guitar, bang on the drums, and according to his dad, he loved construction.

“And that’s one of the reasons he came to YouthBuild, because he really thought he could make it, that he could learn a lot of things. And you know, he did,” Jose Arzate said.  

A year after Angel’s death, his family moved into a Casa Soñada house.

“It’s one of the houses we always wanted. Because my son. He put his hands in these houses,” Jose Arzate explained, his voice breaking.  

“So, that’s one of the reasons we want to stay in the house as long as we can — All my life if I can.”

Jose Arzate is proud his son Angel worked on the YouthBuild houses, like the one he now lives in.

Jose Arzate is proud his son Angel worked on the YouthBuild houses, like the one he now lives in.

Emily Cureton/OPB

Arzate works on a Central Oregon hay farm. Rent for the house is about $600 per month, made possible by two Central Oregon nonprofits — Housing Works and NeighborImpact — managing the property.  After 10 years, the family gets the option to buy the house for the cost of construction, which Jose Arzate said he “absolutely,” plans to do.

Living there helps him remember the son he lost, but it’s also where he’ll welcome another son home. A baby boy named Alex Arzate was born this week.