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This village starts small

Schwettman Education Center students build tiny houses to collect money for the homeless.

By Michele Miller, Times Staff Writer
Published February 13, 2008




They're not the typical coffee cans or buckets that folks put out when they're collecting for charity. But the modified birdhouse design should catch some attention, and perhaps some leftover coins, to support a new cause for the homeless called "Journey Village." The collection houses are a prototype of sorts, a miniature version of Denny Mihalinec's vision of the transitional houses he hopes to see built on a yet-to-be-determined 5-acre site in east Pasco.

"We want to start a pilot program, a one-stop place with all the social services to help get the homeless off the ground," said Mihalinec, 35, a longtime community activist who has been involved in a variety of local causes.

Raising money is a priority.

That's where Schwettman Education Center students come in.

Students in Melissa Barnhills' art class and Larry Johnson's wood shop class at Schwettman have collaborated to build the collection homes. They have slots for coins and bills.

Last week, students completed the first phase of collection houses to be distributed to businesses throughout east and central Pasco County. Theymeasured and cut the wood, assembled the pieces and painted them, front porch and all.

It's the kind of stuff Jerry Jones likes to do. "My dad used to be a construction worker," said Jerry, 15. "I used to go with him on some jobs. So I know a little bit about the tools.

"It's pretty cool," he said, after putting finishing touches on the minibungalows with classmates Tyler Bertram, 14, Blake Campbell, 18, and Shawn Peck, 16.

"It's hands-on," Jerry said. "I got to build stuff. And I think it's a good cause."

So does Johnson. If the idea of Journey Village comes to fruition and Johnson has his way, his students will build the 500- to 1,000-square-foot transition cabins at Schwettman, then have them transported to the site.

Community service is a big part of the curriculum at Schwettman Education Center, an alternative school for middle and high school students who have had problems in the typical school setting.

"These are kids who have made public mistakes," said principal Mimi Foster. "Some are here voluntarily because their parents feel they need the small class size or extra attention."

Others come in lieu of expulsion. "Usually it's a serious breach of the student code of conduct from one of the west Pasco middle or high schools we serve," said Foster. "Our responsibility is to engage them socially and academically and get them back to their home school. We give them hope and an opportunity to turn it around."

Wood shop, art class and physical education tend to be the more popular classes for Schwettman students, Foster said.

"Kids love that hands-on stuff," she said, adding that Schwettman students have built picnic benches and signs that are placed at schools and recreation sites throughout the county. "They shine in those areas. If they're producing something that's going out in the community, they have that ownership and they're more likely to take pride in it and protect it."

"I like the whole idea of helping out the homeless," Blake Campbell said, adding that he enjoys his time in the wood shop because "it's not an academic class."

Even so, Johnson notes that Blake is learning those academics - science and math - along with a work ethic and team-building skills without even realizing it, all in a hands-on way.

[Last modified February 12, 2008, 20:49:05]