Big Heroes, Tiny Homes program in Humble ISD on fire as word spreads

Big Heroes, Tiny Homes program in Humble ISD on fire as word spreads

A sleepless night for a Summer Creek High School assistant principal has turned an ordinary academic class into a district-wide project that is quickly gaining state and national attention for Humble ISD.

At the invitation to their year-end banquet, retired three-star Lt. General Rick Lynch praised the students at Summer Creek, Kingwood Park, and Kingwood high schools for their successes in building tiny homes for veterans through the district’s Big Heroes, Tiny Homes program.

“You are the future of our nation, and you’re setting the table well,” Lynch said. “You’re touching lives and making a difference.”

The general gave the students some orders in his speech telling them, “The impact educators had on my life was profound,” Lynch said. “If you’re not telling your teachers thank you, fix that tomorrow.”

Next, Lynch said students should dedicate themselves to being servant leaders.

“Always focus on doing good, as opposed to doing well,” Lynch said.

Lynch ended his speech by thanking the volunteers and financial supporters of the program.

“You’re the big heroes, all the students, the educators, the nonprofits and corporate sponsors,” Lynch said. “I’m humbled to be in your presence.”

The tiny house is 390 square feet and contains a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and a small living space.

Karys Abshire, a senior at Summer Creek and president of the architecture committee, said she was amazed at the community reaction to the program.

“The tiny home program isn’t just for the student architects and builders,” Abshire said. “It’s a program that’s impacting every one of our students, their friends and families, and each veteran that lives in the homes.”

The idea for the program came from Allen Segura, assistant principal at Summer Creek High School.

“He approached me one morning at school and said, ‘Hey, I didn’t sleep very well last night so, I got on Facebook. I saw where in Kansas City, there are veterans that are building tiny homes for homeless veterans. I wonder, is that something you think students could do?’” he asked James Gaylord, CTE instructor at Summer Creek High School.

Gaylord teaches a principles of architecture class at the high school level, which up until that point, was just an academic course in the classroom. His background was in construction.

“I said, ‘Sure. There are some logistical things we have to get around but the students are capable of it,’” he told Segura.

Their next phone call was to Missi Taylor, architecture teacher at Kingwood Park, who agreed immediately.

Segura became the executive director of the program and both Gaylord and Taylor brainstormed together on how to incorporate the construction in their classes.

“From the very beginning, he kind of laid it out with two core values: serve homeless veterans and keep students at the forefront of everything we do. Missi Taylor at Kingwood Park has now finished four houses. We have finished three on our campus,” Gaylord said.

Now Shellie Dick, construction technology and agriculture teacher at Kingwood High School, is leading his students in building their first house. They have now delivered five of the houses and have two more ready to go as soon as the infrastructure is complete. Their goal is for each high school to design and build one tiny house per campus per year.

Putting the program together wasn’t an easy process, in fact, there weren’t just a few questions, but Gaylord said thousands of questions.

“We’ve kind of got this figured out and we need to fine tune or perfect it,” he said.

Now he has big dreams.

“I can do a tiny house a year for the next 10 years and we will have built 10 houses, impacted a lot of students and veterans but ultimately we won’t have really impacted homelessness in a big way,” he said.

His solution?

“If we challenge every high school in America to join us, yes, 40,000 high schools across this country, to build one tiny house a year, we could end homelessness altogether, not just veteran homelessness,” he said boldly.

Now the vision is to challenge other schools.

“It really is easier than you might think. You don’t need specialized space, specialized tools,” he said. “The tools you need to build a house fit in the back of a pickup truck.”

Gaylord said they use approximately four parking spaces on their campus to build the house on.

“The house is a happy byproduct. It’s an amazing thing to see to walk through the homes that our kiddos have built. But the house is the byproduct, the real product, is the students and the opportunities that they have. The real-world application, all the things that we spend so much time teaching, but never really have the hands-on relevance is the most authentic, relevant project-based learning in all of education right now,” he said.

Building a future

Gaylord explained the way the project works on his campus.

“This August when we come back to campus, we will start building our fourth house. We already have the design force selected. On my campus, all my students are in my classes brainstorm with their own individual tiny house floor plan before we start building,” he described it.

That’s already a curriculum requirement, however, now students have an opportunity to do more with the plan itself.

“I have a committee of students in my architecture classes, a volunteer group. Once everybody has done their own individual design, we kind of boil it down to the best ones. The students go through a rubric in the selection process and evaluate each one and they make the ultimate decision on which design is selected,” he said.

The plans are then refined. He credits his architecture committee with finding flaws in the plans, even while he’s working with the build team. Much like in a real-world situation, they do construction management assuring there are no design flaws and everything is square and level according to the dimensions.

“We built one wall three times on this last house, because we just didn’t quite get it right. It was an interesting dynamic because the construction team built it the way they thought they needed it, but the architecture team said, ‘No. The windows aren’t going right.’ It was a great life lesson,” he laughed.

He assured his design and construction teams that they are going to make mistakes even in the professional world.

“What you do about it a lot of times determines whether you get to come back the next day,” he warned students.

Beyond the pencil, sometimes students must figure out how they will reach the peak of the roof when they have nothing to help them.

“It’s nice to have a living, breathing project right outside my classroom door because 90 percent of what I’m describing to them in regular classroom work, we can see, feel it, touch it,” he said.

The students literally do everything from foundation work, the framing, roofing, plumbing, electrical wiring, breakers, they do it all. Many of the teens have never put their hands on some of the equipment.

First things first and the blessings

Gaylord and his colleagues had to first receive the blessing from the superintendent and ultimately the school board where they received a hearty thumbs up. That was the good news. Fast forward a year later at an open house for their first built home and Gaylord was congratulated on the accomplishment but was also told the bad news: there would be no funding for the project the next year.

“I was told if we could find the funding, we had their blessing to continue,” he said.

They worked harder than ever to solicit private funds and raise money through fundraisers. Then a miracle came.

“Missi Taylor pulled a genie out of her hat and an anonymous donor in Kingwood wrote a check for $20,000, seed money for each of the two campuses at the time,” he said.

Students continued to raise funds selling T-shirts and gummy bears to raise the remainder of the money.

“You have to sell a ton of those things to buy a house,” he laughed.

Despite the added pressure of funding the project, the three teachers—Gaylord at Summer Creek, Taylor at Kingwood Park, and Shellie Dick at Kingwood—all found help in more than a miraculous way.

“At our first event awarding the home, there were some guys in the group that we weren’t aware of and later discovered they were with Operation Finally Home,” Gaylord said.

The organization builds homes for veterans who have suffered through some form of disability in their service to the country, and they build them a home specially equipped for them.

They told Gaylord their values aligned with theirs and they offered help for materials with their next few houses. They worked out an arrangement with Lowe’s through their foundation and funded the next 15 homes to be built by the students.

“That was a godsend,” Gaylord said gratefully. “That made it so much easier for us to not have to worry about the next bundle of two by fours.”

One of the big questions for the students and Gaylord after finishing that first house was who do they give it to? And where will they put the house?

“We just kept building and figured the answers would come in time,” he said.

At that first event, the project received some broadcast coverage and Barbara Lange, the CEO at Langetree Retreat and ECO Center reached out to them from Liberty County. With her facility, she has been helping the VA and the VFW for 25 years.

“She told us she had 100 acres and wanted to make something work,” Gaylord said.

Now, the students design them, build them, then donate them to Lange who houses the veterans, but more good news came along.

Lee Kirgan of Operation Finally Home found out about the 100 acres and OFH has now stepped in and is designing a community with the tiny homes installing the infrastructure for them to support the veterans. With a master plan, they want to build a community center with an enormous kitchen to feed all the veterans on the property at once. The plan also includes an additional six pods of five homes each with underground power, septic, and water.

“This four- or five-year plan has been amazing to watch. It’s exciting to see others catch the same vision,” Gaylord said.

Most of his questions have now been answered.

To donate to Big Heroes Tiny Homes, contact Gaylord at [email protected] or Missi Taylor at [email protected] or Shellie Dick at [email protected]

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