Jack McCarley’s students at Auburn High School have been busy assembling an 8-by-12-foot, portable, energy-efficient homeless shelter for a statewide competition. MARK KLAAS, Auburn Reporter

Auburn High students building ‘tiny homeless shelter’

Isabella Kenward never imagined picking up a hammer or a power tool to build something useful – and change someone’s life.

But the Auburn High School senior has proven herself a quick study, growing in skill, confidence and purpose with every lesson in Jack McCarley’s well-equipped, spacious woodshop.

A seasoned carpenter she is not, just an eager student willing to grasp something new.

And join a team of volunteer apprentices ready to provide a roof over the head of someone less fortunate.

“I never thought I could build a shelter for the homeless,” said Kenward, during a pause from cutting insulation padding for the unit’s walls. “I realized I can really do this. I realized I can do more. … This makes me feel better about myself, and it’s for a good cause.”

Kenward and Co. – Auburn’s after-school construction club – was one of 25 teams chosen to take part in a statewide competition that demonstrates the value of the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program through real-world, hands-on learning. High school and college-level students have been busy throughout March, building 8-by-12-foot, portable, energy-efficient homeless shelters for the inaugural CTE Showcase of Skills Homeless Shelter Project.

The state’s Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board is coordinating the competition, which culminates in a construction contest in Olympia on March 27, when teams converge to demonstrate their technical skills. Students, who have been busy working on their shelters within their CTE classes, will ship their nearly completed shelters to Olympia in the days leading up to the competition, where they will add finishing touches such as hanging doors or painting trim.

Each team is made up of five students and each was provided with a $2,500 stipend to pay for supplies. The shelters will include a door and at least one window. Solar panels will be installed on one shelter as a demonstration project.

Winners will be announced on the afternoon of the competition and recognized for their accomplishments.

Finished shelters will be transported to Seattle where they will provide transitional, homeless housing.

For all to see

Gov. Inslee and his wife, Trudi, and Chris Reykdal, the state’s newly elected superintendent of Public Instruction, are scheduled to speak at the March 27 event. The Low Income Housing Institute of Seattle will be on hand, with a representative of the homeless community talking about his plight.

“When students tackle hands-on, relevant projects, they learn better and more deeply. That’s at the heart of CTE, and why we wanted to showcase this in front of policymakers and the public,” said Workforce Board Executive Director Eleni Papadakis, noting that the demonstration project is within walking distance of the Legislature, and legislators are expected to drop by and encourage the students as they put finishing touches to their shelters.

“This is truly a real-world opportunity for CTE students from across the state to show what they can do, while making a real difference in the lives of homeless people,” Papadakis said.

For McCarley, a longtime carpenter turned teacher, it has been a worthwhile experience. Students of all walks who have never swung a hammer or handled a power tool became the backbone builders of the project. Some students learn a valuable skill, others acquire community service hours.

“It is pretty cool deal,” he said. “We’re using power equipment … and all these guys had to learn how to use a nail gun. And they’ve done a pretty nice job.”

McCarley has spent time imparting some of his carpenter’s wisdom to his young helpers. McCarley did the roofing and sheeting, but his students have been responsible for the rest of the project.

“You’ve got to be patient. These kids don’t know how to do this stuff,” he said. “But for kids to be interested in this kind of stuff … to be willing to do something like this. … is kind of gratifying.”

Given the tools, materials and opportunity, McCarley couldn’t think of a better way to teach his craft.

“You’ve got to build something, so you might as well make it useful and sell,” he said.

And provide something important for those in need.

“I learned that I could make a difference,” said Francisco Jhaydee, a senior student and volunteer. “It’s really sweet to put this stuff out.”

To learn more about the project and its many partners, visit wtb.wa.gov/CTEHomelessHouseProject.