Build America An Ability Experience

Teaching Tool Safety

What is Build America?

The Build America team starts off with twenty-two Pi Kappa Phi college fraternity students submitting their application to join Build America 6 week journey on their summer vacation.  These students are required to fund raise $4,000.00 each, which will be used to fund the program.

The first two days of this program include a 2-day tool safety and construction training by our ToolBoxBuzz Crew, located in Concord, MA.  After the training event, the students pack up a bunch of vans with tools and enthusiasm and will begin their 6-week journey traveling to six different camps  The Build America team works one week at each camp and travels to the next camp over the weekend.

Each week they are tasked with repairing and building accessible recreational projects for kids with disabilities. Throughout the summer, the team will log over 4,000 man hours, save camps and communities $50,000 in labor costs, over $30,000 in materials expenses and impact the lives of thousands of people with disabilities.

The Ability Experience – Who they are

  • Mission = we use share experiences to support people with disabilities and develop the men of PI Kappa Phi into servant leaders.
  • Vision = create a community, one relationship at a time, where abilities of all people are recognized and valued.
  • Values = Abilities, Teamwork, Empathy and Integrity

The Ability Experience is formally known as Push America, is a nonprofit organization that serves people with disabilities.  The Ability Experience was founded in 1977 as the national philanthropy of PI Kappa Phi fraternity with the purpose of instilling lifelong service in its members plus enhancing the quality of life for people with disabilities.  For more information or to donate to The Ability Experience please go to

The Ripple Effect

The ripple effect was talked about in day 1 with the opening speech from Rob Robillard – A Concord Carpenter.  In Rob’s speech he used the term ripple effect and that is exactly what will happen with the Build America team.

The Ripple Effect is similar to ripples expanding across a pond when a stone is dropped into it. One stone creates a dozen or more far-reaching ripples. The good will, charity and camp improvements that the Build America team leaves behind has a ripple affect. Their actions will affect thousands of people, who benefit from their work,  over the next 10-years.

The Safety Training

This is the 3rd time Rob Robillard and Todd Fratzel of A Concord Carpenter and Tool Box Buzz, respectively had the opportunity to train these new 22 students into the field of carpentry with building construction, tool/equipment safety and project site safety.  Along with Rob and Todd there were 10 other professional contractors on site to ensure training was thorough and to the point.

Each instructor had a lesson plan and prepared for the 2 day training experience.  The students were from all over the country, and are eager to learn. Some show up never having used a hammer or power tool before.  The training follows adult learning modalities such as; “explanation, demo and do.”  This allows the students to get valuable hands on training, as well as, get comfortable with the new skills/tools that they will be using over the next six weeks.  We saw each student shine in different rolls, some rising to the status of “esteemed measuring guy, to efficient circular saw guy, to team leader. ”

Training Rotations

The two day training was designed to with 40-minute rotations, with each student rotates through all of the rotations. The instructor cadre researched each camp project, broke it down into segments and designed a custom lesson plan.  This lesson plan teaches the exact skills needed for the upcoming camp projects that they will perform. The last day included a 3-hour exam where the group splits into two teams and build miniature versions of actual projects that they will encounter.

  • Job site safety
  • Basic hand tools
  • Power tool
  • Reading blue prints & tape measures
  • Ladder Safety
  • Trail Clearing
  • Building construction of a pirate ship, shed, saw horses, decks and board walk, ramps
  • Basic first aid
  • Pneumatic safety and properly fire a nailer
  • Hardscaping/paver install
  • Accessibility ramps
  • Mounting in concrete footings

The Journey of 2017

Each week it will be a new camp and new projects, here are the camps that Build America team  #BAM2017 will impact with improved greatness.

In order from week 1 to week 6

  • Woodlands Foundation, Wexford, PA
  • Camp Wawbeek, Wisconsin Dells, WI
  • Rocky Mountain Village, Empire, CO
  • Down Home Ranch, Elgin, TX
  • Camp Little Gaint, Makanda, IL
  • Camp Discovery, Gainesboro, TN


My Personal Experience

This was my first year as an instructor and to be part of this was an in creditable experience.  What I was able to take away and give back was just a rewarding feeling.  I was very impressed with the students on how attentive and respectful they were. They soaked up the material being taught to them and their questions were genuine and inquisitive.  This was evident by them subsequently jumping right into what was just shown to them with hammering, sawing, blue print reading, i.e.

The lesson plans that were design for the instructors were intensive and there is a reason why.  Both days of the 10 hour training went off without any down time. That was a huge benefit for the students to get more hands on practice. Thanks to Rob Robillard and Phil Benevides for great lesson plans and getting the training barn ready for the team..

As for working with the other instructors, well it was a blast!  I had worked with most of them before and  a few never had the chance. At the end, sure glad I did.  With 10 professional contractors coming together for the same core goal, it was uplifting.

Thank you to the 2017 instructors Rob Robillard, Phil Benevides, Brian Young, Scott Arnold, Ethan Bickford, Billy Burns, Thom Cincotta, Mike Valente, Mike Delisle, James Nadeau, Stan Durlacher, Chris Ermides and (me) Michael Hopp.

I will be looking forward to next year, assisting with the BAM2018 students and continue to follow the #BAM2017 Team.  Being a small part of the Build America Ripple Effect makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger and better!

This ripple will assist hundreds of camp goers’ plus their families for years to come.  A great feeling, and I’m proud to take part in the Build America An Ability Experience.


We had some excellent sponsors to assist us with Build America 2017.  To start off Milwaukee Power Tools donated year to date $15,000.00 worth of tools for the students to train with and to take on their 6 week journey.  Concord Lumber Corporation donated $3,000 in lumber, building materials, man power to assist and hauled away all the debris like it never happened.  For the metal roof demo, Scituate Lumber Company donated all the supplies for the students to get hands on with metal roof panels.

Our training barn, belongs to one of Rob’s clients, Janet and Churchill Franklin, and I thank them for letting us use their property.  Without a property and barn, I’m not sure we could pull this off. It was spot on perfect.  Plus we had Benjamin Franklin, Janet and Churchill’s Golden Retriever was a bonus, and photogenic!

There are a couple more people who made this all possible.  Architect Rob Beede, and Kevin Magliozzi from Photo Depot, they both assisted with architectural drawings, their time, knowledge and large format photos and drawings that we used to train the students.

We like to thank The Ability Experience for having this program available for people with disabilities and making positive changes for the future.

Final Thoughts

The Tool Safety and Construction training is long over, now we get to follow the #Bam2017 team to see the impressive things they build throughout the summer.  The friendships they forge, bonds they build and connections they make will last a lifetime . . . all just a continuing ripple effect for years to come.

About the author

Michael Hopp

Michael Hopp is a registered contractor in the State of Rhode Island. He has been registered for the last 16 years specializing in interior and exterior remodeling, doors and windows.Mike began practicing his trade 25 years ago at William M. Davies Career and Technical High School in carpentry shop. This gave him the opportunity to become an apprentice at Brodeur Window Distributors. Mike continued working at the company for 10 years. During this time he was in charge of the specialty door shop and assisted on service calls.For the last 16 years, Mike has been working as a general contractor in Rhode Island with his company MJH Construction LLC. Even though his background is in doors and windows, his passion is for remodel work.

Michael Hopp

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