Students think inside the box to help solve housing needs

Students from Central High School in Newark retrofitted a shipping container to provide a place to live for those in need of housing.

Four aspiring engineers, students and graduates of Newark’s Central High School cut the ribbon on their “Help in a Hurry” home.

“We worked very hard from the beginning. This was a dingy container. We struggled,” said Ishmael Jalloh.

They insulated the container with a supertherm paint inside and out, instead of using foam and sheet rock that would take up space. They wired it, installed a bathroom, living room and kitchenette and equipped it with batteries and an inverter for nine rooftop solar panels. The goal? Keeping the container off the electrical grid.

“It’s good for you to have your own source of electricity and whatever you need basically. It’s like living inside a cabin, or in the woods. It’s like trying to survive on your own,” said Jalloh.

The foursome embraced help from partners such as JINGOLI Construction — putting them in the pipeline for internships, employment and, one day, ownership of the company.

“Every time I’m going to look at a container from now on, I’m going to think of these young men who have created a home from it, a safe place in a disaster where people can seek shelter,” said CEO Joseph Jingoli.

The “Help in a Hurry” container can replace all those toxic FEMA-issued trailers that became notorious after Katrina for the stench of formaldehyde that made so many storm survivors sick.

“We are going to have a vent installed so they don’t have to worry about any chemicals or any substance that will make them sick and get them even more ill or anything,” said Essex County College student Frederick Jean-Jacques.

“I am incredibly proud of them,” said Mayor Ras Baraka.

The mayor was among those looking at the container’s use well beyond disaster recovery.

“This is truly an example, a model of what we should be doing throughout the city,” he said.

“I honestly hope that we can manufacture a whole bunch of these things and be able to help a whole bunch of people who have lost their homes, or homeless people or people who can’t even afford homes,” said student from Central High School Joseph Marshall.

Saleem Bush did much of the electrical work and his proud father is ready to take full advantage of it.

“My son, on the cutting edge of some new things coming out, a house you can actually live in, a shipping container. I told him when he gets rich, they’re going to build one on this property so I can come stay in it,” said Napoleon Bush.

“I think it’s not a bad idea because this project was meant to be interchangeable,” said Central High School student Saleem Bush.

Central’s vice principal says the school started its pre-engineering academy to help form powerful partnerships.

“Having partnerships with industry, as well as institutions, has allowed us to be able to get our students interested in the STEM field. And that’s been my plight, that’s been my goal for the last 15 years is to get more students of color — blacks and Hispanics — into the STEM fields,” said Naseed Gifted, vice principal of Central High School.

“Actually what Mr. Gifted’s vision was is so perfect. It’s really synergistic because it’s the same vision that I have that we must train, but it’s not enough just to train. We need to partnership because our young people are fighting against a legacy of a lack of social capital and our jobs is to make sure that we expose, that we connect, we partner and educate,” said Sharnee Brown, principal of Central High School.

Central High says it’s about thinking outside and inside the box.

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