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Building Our Future

How BuildUp students and donors envision a better Magic City

Article by Denise K. James

Photography by Caleb Chancey

Originally published in Birmingham Lifestyle

When Orooj and Hafiz Chandiwala were searching for their ideal home in Cahaba Heights — a neighborhood they’d lived in and wanted to remain part of – a little bit of creativity and luck paved the way. “We put notes in mailboxes of the homes we liked,” says Orooj. “Then, Vincent, who lived in one of them, called us back and said, “Are you phishing or serious?’ So we met with him.”

The timing worked out, and the Chandiwalas were delighted to plan for what would become their dream home on the lot — but what about the current house, which Vincent and his family had loved so for long? That’s when the couple learned about Build Urban Prosperity, an organization that would relocate Vincent’s home and repurpose it for the good of the community. “Our neighbor, Russ Doyle, a local builder, told us about BuildUP, and, from an eco-friendly standpoint, I loved the idea,” Orooj recalls. “We decided to donate the home to BuildUP.”

The couple describes the process as streamlined and easy, with a crew coming to disassemble the brick home into pieces for easy transport. Interestingly, the home would be moved back to Ensley — a fitting journey, considering Vincent’s Italian-American family lived in that very community during Vincent’s childhood and youth. Everyone agreed the home’s return to his family’s original neighborhood was meant to be, and the Chandiwalas were confident in their choice to move, rather than to destroy the house. “Like most eco-friendly things, it was more expensive than just demolishing,” Orooj notes, “but we felt it was worth it.”

Today, Vincent’s former house has become a happy home for BuildUP student Rowlan Cummings and his family. Along with his mom, dad and two sisters, Rowlan feels fortunate not only to live in this spacious four-bedroom abode but to have an up-close perspective on the BuildUP process. In 2018, when BuildUP offered summer programs (not yet an accredited secondary education program) Rowlan and his cousin, William, spent the season learning much more than they expected, at the encouragement of Rowlan’s aunt.

“The program was totally new to me — I never thought I’d do something like that,” Rowlan shares. “We were working on this house, and we were building sheds, doing demolitions, taking down walls, building decks — and at the end of the program, I was really proud of myself, like I accomplished something I thought I could never do.” 

Now 19 years old, a graduate of BuildUP’s accredited high school and working on his electrician certification, Rowlan is one of the two first student groups to complete BuildUP’s high school program and aim for the ultimate goal — a home and mortgage without interest. According to BuildUP founder Mark Martin, students are eligible for homes and mortgages when they have successfully completed the post-secondary education program and either secured a salaried job or started a viable business.

“We work with the students and support them to get on their career paths — often in things like electrical, carpentry or other trades, but they get exposure to other sides such as real estate, architecture and design as well — and they must complete the program to prepare themselves for the responsibility of owning a home,” Martin explains. “Since [BuildUP] is only five years old, no students have gotten that far yet, but we’ve had two graduating classes of high school students, so we have two groups who are in the midst of working through these steps.”

Rowlan, for one, is hard at work. In addition to taking his electrician classes each Wednesday, he maintains a part-time position at Sam’s Club in Hoover as well as an electrical apprenticeship with Mr. Bruce, whom he met through BuildUP. “I’ll come in, build lights and install lighting,” he says. “Right now, I just want to focus on myself and elevate myself as much as I can.”

Rowlan readily admits that BuildUP has changed his life for the better, not only on a professional level but on a personal one as well. A self-described timid youth who had trouble grasping his own potential, his experiences with BuildUP have bolstered his confidence and broadened his perspective of what is possible. 

“They opened my eyes and opened some doors that were closed,” Rowlan muses. “I was in the background — seen but not heard. They motivated me to be more open with others; they knew I could, and they encouraged me to express myself. They know I can be someone, and now I see that in myself.”

Learn more about BuildUP's program at 

  • Mark Martin, Founder
  • Rowlan Cummings, BuildUp student