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Teaching in the Trenches

Caroline Purtell

At the bottom of Mike Moroski’s stairwell hangs a picture, which the 2001 graduate passes every morning on his way to teach at Moeller High School in Cincinnati. Taken last fall, it depicts the opening reception for a building in Over-the-Rhine—Cincinnati’s poorest neighborhood—that he and his students rehabbed. About 50 parents, volunteers and friends gathered at the site to celebrate months of hard work and welcome owner Liz Shockley and her mother to their new home.

“The No. 1 cause of homelessness is lack of affordable housing, and Cincinnati has one of the lowest home ownership rates in the country,” Moroski says, explaining why the rehab process is so important.

Moroski didn’t start out restoring entire buildings. In fact, he knew little, if anything, about construction. Instead, he simply volunteered to chaperone a group of boys going to Over-the-Rhine to do general labor and fix-up. “I went down the one time, and the people I met and the things I saw and did really affected me, so I started going more and more,” he says. “I did it that one time and the next thing I knew, we were adopting buildings and working every weekend.”

The English teacher’s enthusiasm for Over-the-Rhine is equally matched by the students he mentors. “I’ve got 20 kids signed up a weekend,” he says. “I have to turn kids away.” To help students learn more about the area in which they are working, Moroski created a weekend retreat for 12 of the most involved students. He arranged sessions for the group, which calls itself M.A.C.H. 1 (Moeller Advocates for Community Housing), that addressed issues of homelessness, government regulations, and the bureaucratic and pragmatic concerns surrounding affordable housing.

The group volunteers through the summer as well, and plans are in the works for another building rehab this fall. In January, Moeller awarded Moroski its service award. “This part of my life with Over-the-Rhine and working with the boys and with the homeless and making that connection really helps me to be a better teacher,” he says.

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