Portland CM Helps Students Build Charity Home

Originally published by: Portland Business TribuneAugust 29, 2018

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The newest house at Dignity Village in Portland may be tiny in size, but it's big on community spirit.

Students from Oregon Episcopal School joined with Stone Bridge Homes Northwest and Pacific Lumber & Truss Co. to build a 120 square-foot tiny house that was donated to Dignity Village earlier this month.

The house is the result of a team effort led by Jack and Luke Morissette. The two brothers, who attend Oregon Episcopal School, brought together a group of their fellow students and two local companies involved in the building industry to design and build a tiny structure to benefit a Dignity Village resident.

Dignity Village describes itself as the "longest-existing, continually operating city-sanctioned homeless village" in the country. Located on land near Portland International Airport, the encampment offers people a safe place to live and access services while they the transition to permanent housing and employment. With 50 to 60 people living in Dignity Village at a time, space for brick-and-mortar housing structures is limited, making tiny houses the ideal shelters for residents.

The house the Morissette brothers and their team delivered earlier this month, for example, is 120 square feet. But while the structure is short on space, it's long on tradition.

Four years ago, when Jack and Luke's brother Ted attended OES, he led an effort to build and deliver a tiny house as part of the school's requirement that all upper-level students complete 160 hours of community service. Two years ago, brother Henry and a team of students that included Jack built and donated another tiny house as part of the school's focus on community service.

This year, 18-year-old Jack, who is starting his senior year, moved into the lead spot for the tiny house project. He was joined by brother Luke, 16, who is a sophomore.

Involvement in this year's tiny house project was also a repeat performance for Stone Bridge Homes NW.

The Lake Oswego-based residential building company is no stranger to supporting community efforts that feature a construction component. The business has regularly helped out with the Viking House program at Forest Grove High School, which annually teaches students to build an entire house. The resulting house is then sold, with proceeds going back into the program

The company has been a supporter of the Dignity Village tiny house efforts ever since the first one was built, said Kelly Ritz, Stone Bridge president.

Stone Bridge Homes Northwest contributed architectural design assistance and construction guidance for students. Pacific Lumber & Truss Co. donated materials and space where the house was constructed.

The company's main role in the project is to serve as a mentor, according to Ritz. One of Bridge Stone's designers, for example, worked with Jack and the other students to turn their vision for this year's house into a custom design. Jim Delmore, the company's construction manager, also provided advice and guidance once the students began actually constructing the house.

"We used our in-house architectural designer to bring their vision to life, (but) a lot of it was (the students') ideas," Ritz said. "We love to see young people excited about construction; we love to see them giving back as well. We just tried to help them achieve success."

Stone Bridge also connected the students with Pacific Lumber & Truss Co., which donated materials for the project. The Beaverton-based business also provided space in its lumber yard where the house was built over four days. When it was finished, the house was placed on a flatbed and trucked to Dignity Village.

If Luke Morissette decides to continue the family tradition and lead a team to build a fourth tiny house for Dignity Village, Bridge Stone will be ready to help, Ritz said. While her company's involvement supports the community, Ritz also sees it as providing some much-needed exposure for the construction industry and the homebuilding market.

When completed, the tiny house built by Jack and Luke Morissette and other OES students was placed on a flatbed, hauled to Dignity Village and presented to its new tenant.

Like commercial construction, the homebuilding industry is struggling to find enough qualified workers. Many of the skilled tradespeople who found themselves out of work when the homebuilding market dried up during the Great Recession haven't returned now that the economy has rebounded. In addition, the baby boomers that stayed in homebuilding are now retiring.

For Ritz, working with students on projects like the tiny house for Dignity Village gives her company a chance to show high school students what it's like to build something from the ground up.

"They get to see the whole (process) and participate in the whole experience," Ritz said. "Even if they don't go on to be in the construction industry, it teaches great life skills and work ethic."