One of the studies conducted in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew (which devastated South Florida in August 1992) included a recommendation that Florida train a skilled workforce capable of building hurricane-resistant homes. Acting on that recommendation, Florida Home Builders Association (FHBA) Past President Ron Coppenbarger, a Jacksonville home builder, developed a game plan to achieve that goal through a private-public partnership between the housing industry and Florida’s education system.
FHBA’s Director of Governmental Affairs Douglas Buck, using his keen knowledge of state government, turned the goal into reality when he lobbied the Florida Legislature for monies to create the Florida Construction Institute (FCI) on the campus of Florida Community College, Jacksonville (FCCJ).
FCI was tasked with reviewing and recommending the changes needed to the state’s construction curriculum so that it better reflected the needs of the construction workforce. As part of the overall initiative, an FHBA associate member, Sandy Sims of the Gulf Power Company in Fort Walton Beach, conceived the idea of an “arm” of FHBA that would financially support students seeking construction-related careers. Her idea gave birth to the Florida Home Builders Foundation.
The Foundation immediately began raising funds and providing scholarships. It continues today to be supported by FHBA builders and associates alike.
After years of dedication and hard work to develop and implement the state’s construction courses, the FCI members, including representatives of FCCJ, past FHBA Second Vice President Rob Wilson of Tallahassee, and FHBA Life Director Ed Dion of Tallahassee, met with senior staff at the Florida Department of Education (FDOE). The goal was to convince FDOE that students who reached the level of technical education 6 needed to construct hurricane resistant housing deserved a degree. To illustrate the level
of technical skills needed, Dion produced a matrix from a window manufacturer, which indicated the size, length and count of fasteners required to properly install a window, according to its size, in any one of the state’s many wind zones.
As difficult as the matrix was to understand, it only represented one of the many components used to construct a home, all of which had to be installed correctly. Further, this level of knowledge was needed by each and every member of the workforce. As a result of this revealing exercise, FDOE leaders instituted an Associate of Applied Science(AAS) Degree, which is now offered in community colleges around the state.
While FCI members were working to develop the educational path, Foundation members realized even more the need to encourage young people to seek careers in construction. From that need, and the vision of FHBA’s Membership Services Director (and future CEO/Executive Vice President) J. Emmett Reed, an organization called the Future Builders of America was born.
The first FBA Student Chapter was organized in 2003 with the support of the members and staff of the Collier Home Builders Association and Greg Foote, then Director of the Lely High School Construction Academy. It was the beginning of a new horizon for students beyond the classroom.
Reed’s vision was to pattern the chapters and leadership camp after the very successful Future Farmers of America, (FFA). Still in its infancy, FBA hosted its first leadership camp in 2004 at the FFA facility in Haines City, Florida.
Just seven students attended the first event but it was such a success that five of the original seven students returned the following year, and they brought friends. Through the dedication and hard work of the camp committee, countless volunteers, donors and FHBA’s own inspirational staff, the leadership camp has grown since its inception in both quantity of students and quality of programs.
Wanting “their own” facility, FHBA leadership tasked a committee chaired by Past President Robert Parrish of Tallahassee with finding the right place. Parrish and members of his group crisscrossed the state in their review of lands available. They settled on a five hundred acre parcel 30 minutes east of Tallahassee, near the Natural Bridge Battlefield, a Historic Civil War Site. After the purchase and while the property was still heavily mortgaged, plans for the zoning and development permits were begun.
Shortly thereafter, another FHBA Past President and his wife, Robert and Amy Harper of Lakeland, presented the foundation with a $550,000 check to pay off the entire mortgage. And soon thereafter, the leadership camp was officially named “Camp Harper” and Bonded Builders Warranty Group funded the “Robert and Amy Harper Award” to honor future individuals who contribute to the success of the Foundation and the Future Builders of America program.
2016 Harper Award Recipient Tim Christman with Summit Chairman John Carlson of Core Construction and Vice Chair Wendy Dittmar from Manning Building Supplies.