Tiny house project fosters culture of service, helps someone in need

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ROSWELL, Ga. (CNS) — A months-long project to build a tiny home checked all the boxes for Blessed Trinity High School in Roswell.

The project — which began in November 2018 and was just recently completed — has fostered a culture of service on the Catholic school’s campus; incorporated engineering, technology science and the arts; and drawn the participation of students with diverse interests.

Blessed Trinity High School freshman C.J. Van Zant, Jason Podhorez, project manager and the Roswell, Ga., school’s computer systems administrator, and senior Rosie Nemec construct a tiny home in Roswell. The project was part of an effort by the Catholic school to weave several subjects into school projects, linking religion and the arts to engineering and technology. (CNS photo/Michael Alexander, The Georgia Bulletin)

And regarding the faith component? The goal from the beginning was to give the finished house to a person in need, such as a homeless veteran.

The house measures just under 200 square feet. Situated on a custom-built wheeled trailer, this home includes a sleeping loft for a king bed and a twin, a kitchen and a bathroom with a standup shower, along with a sitting area.

The tiny home is part of a minimalist living trend. For comparison, the average house in America is about 2,400 square feet, according to the Census Bureau.

When the project began, student Rosie Nemec wasn’t going to let the lack of experience with circular saws, nail guns, impact drills and other construction tools stop her. Then a senior, Nemec has since graduated with the hope of becoming a nurse.

The chance to work with her hands to build a home — and not just any home, but a popular tiny house for a person in need — intrigued her.

“It was a new experience for me,” Nemec said in an interview last year with The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Atlanta Archdiocese. “I wanted to help the school and the homeless vet we’re giving the house to.”

Designs and videos from Tiny House Builder — a clearinghouse for the DIY (do it yourself) crowd with visions of downsizing — guided the students’ work. This project offered young women and men a taste of the construction trade.

Students started from the bottom as they installed the floor on the trailer, nailed the upright studs then attached the plywood sheathing. They installed the roof rafters. They learned safety techniques for handling new tools and received basic instructions on skills, such as using a tape measure or cutting wood.

The instructors welcomed all students, whether they had done home renovation before or not, and they each had different roles. For example, Nemec cut wood as students built the frame of the house and its roof.

“We always ask the question, ‘Who has not done this before?’ They know what they are getting into before they go out with a bunch of lumber,” said Jason Podhorez, one of the school staff members who led the effort. “Students gain comfort with the tools over time and take on more responsibility. It’s a great thing to see.”

Podhorez handles the school’s computer systems.

This project — a first for the school — grew out of an idea students had in the fall of 2017 while learning about electrical circuits. The project was to wire a micro-house on a computer. Students asked about moving from a virtual house to a real one.

A recommendation during a recent accreditation of the Atlanta Archdiocese’s school system was to develop school projects, tying a school’s science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and mathematics curriculum together. It is known at STREAM. Beyond engineering, this project incorporates faith and the arts.

Students from Blessed Trinity High School in Roswell, Ga., prepare material for a tiny home Nov. 8, 2018. The construction project was part of an effort by the Catholic school to weave several subjects into school projects, linking religion and the arts to engineering and technology. (CNS photo/Michael Alexander, The Georgia Bulletin)

The project — built with about $15,000 in donations — attracted a wide range of students, from members of the robotics club to those in fine arts who added flair to the interior. The brawn of the football team came in handy to lift the shell of the house up on top of the trailer.

Members of the campus chapter of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul handled marketing the project to parents as they waited in the car line to pick up their children.

Christopher “C.J.” Van Zant, a freshman when the project began, was one of the novices. He found a connection between his robotics club activities and the tiny house build; both require precision.

“What surprised me is just how similar it is to the build portion of robotics. Tiny home requires precise measurements and careful installations, similar to building a robot,” he said.

As a high school focused on preparing students for college, there are few classes at Blessed Trinity with a vocational focus, like drafting or plumbing. This project offers young women and men a taste of the construction trade.

“It’s a valuable skill to have. All these kids will know how to do a little dry wall. If nothing else, they know how their house was built,” said Brent Hollers, who teaches business and technology education. He is also the mentor of the robotics club.

All the leaders have DIY ingenuity. Business education teacher Scott Findlay is a licensed plumber. Last year, Podhorez gutted his bathroom.

Hollers, described as a “jack of all trades,” has a doctorate degree in workforce education, a specialty to help students with vocational instruction. He leads engineering and computer science courses. Hollers also remodeled his bathroom, landscaped his home’s yard and rebuilt an elevated deck. Some students helped refurbish his 1981 Jeep.

He hopes the campus involvement, the seamless way supporters contribute to the project, and leaning on the ability of the school staff can serve as a model for others.

Students experience working with their hands and living their faith. Other schools may use technology to build a robot as part of a capstone project. Hollers is proud his students created something with an impact, shaping a family’s future.

“Our goal is every year we build one of these things and give it away,” he added.


By Andrew Nelson, Catholic News Service. Nelson is a staff writer at The Georgia Bulletin, newspaper of the Atlanta Archdiocese. Other staff members contributed to this story.