In a world full of challenging news, it feels good to report on something really positive. Pam Marino here with a little more information from my reporting for a news story about the Rancho Cielo Construction Academy that appears in today’s edition of the Weekly.
The academy is the only vocational school to be accepted into the inaugural Orange County Sustainability Decathlon, an international competition primarily for teams of college students to build small, sustainable and marketable prefab homes. As one of 15 teams selected, the academy received a $100,000 grant toward construction of their home. (The California Legislature approved $5 million in seed money in the 2021-22 budget to help launch the decathlon.)
The Rancho Cielo team is currently building their 750-square-foot home using state-of-the-art building materials, all donated by local companies. Once fully constructed, they will then take it apart and truck it in pieces to Orange County in September. Twelve students and their instructors will spend a month there putting the home back together and then showing it to the judges during the competition that runs Oct. 5-15.
One of the great things about this story is that the Rancho Cielo students—ages 16-24—are not the students who would typically compete in such an event. A majority of them come from lower-income neighborhoods; many have had interactions with law enforcement and none have had the opportunity to graduate high school. Rancho Cielo’s staff helps them earn a diploma and learn a trade that will lead them toward career success.
I spoke to Fred Smoller, CEO of the decathlon, who is excited about Rancho Cielo being a part of the competition—though his team did debate the invitation since their intent was to invite university teams.
What tipped their decision was, in part, Rancho Cielo’s story of giving young adults a second chance. “We think it’s phenomenal,” Smoller says. And while the decathlon is about promoting sustainable building, it’s also about developing a future workforce for the industry, Smoller says.
Having Rancho Cielo participate is also a way to make the competition more inclusive, says Smoller. They’re aware the decathlon favors universities and students who have the wealth and opportunities to engage in such an expensive endeavor. While $100,000 is a start, it costs well above that amount for the entire project. Rancho Cielo founder John Phillips led an effort to raise an additional $400,000 in funds and materials.
(Ranch Cielo was part of the 2022 edition of Monterey County Gives! and raised a total of $186,986 for improved school transportation through that campaign.)