Greenville FFA’s big hearts build tiny houses for veterans


Barbecue, fireworks, and freedom. While everyone prepares for the holiday, the Greenville FFA students can reflect on all the good they have done throughout the past two years. With the upcoming holiday, not many high school students can say they helped build a home for someone who has fought for our freedom.

For the past two years, the Greenville FFA Chapter in Southeast Missouri has worked to help the homeless community. Scott Payne, the Greenville FFA Advisor and an Army Reserve chaplain, met a fellow chaplain from Central Illinois in North Carolina in 2017. The chaplain helps manage a homeless community by looking out for them, giving them rides to doctors, and helping them find shelter during cold nights. This act of kindness struck Payne and he also wanted to help this community.  

When the young chapter of 50 members found out about the homeless community, they immediately wanted to help. However, being hours away provided a challenge. After time to think about the situation, Payne and the students decided to make a tiny house for the individuals in that community.

After the students had the goal to build a house, they had to figure out what they needed to do to make that a reality. For example, the students had to figure out how to get the house from the school to the homeless community, collect donations, find the supplies, and how to construct the house itself.

Payne and the FFA members decided the easiest way to construct and move the house was to make it the size of the school’s flatbed trailer. Once they had the plan for transportation, the next step was to reach out to their local community for donations. With a supportive community, many of the items were donated quickly and what wasn’t donated was bought from monetary donations. 

Now it was up to the students to build the tiny house. The house included floor to ceiling tongue and grove finished grade pin, metal roof, insulation, house wrap, linoleum floor, and bunk beds. A local church group donated handmade quilts and bedding. Students in the art department painted patriotic canvases to decorate the inside the house as well.

Although little, Payne said the house is big enough for two people to seek shelter from the weather and stay safe.  With hard work and dedication from the students, the first house was delivered in February 2018 to the homeless community in East Saint Louis.

Payne said the students showed up outside of class time asking to work on the house. They wanted to be there using their hands and working towards their goal.

“The educational side has been tremendous — learning framing construction from start to finish. But even more so I believe they are learning the value of human life and to learn to be compassionate and care and to want to do something to help people,” Payne said.  

Once the house was complete, Payne left it up to the other chaplain to see who got the first house. Payne did not believe he should dictate who was in the most need at the time. The people lived in the house until the property sold and the residents were evicted. In hindsight, Payne says it was a good move since that property is now underwater due to the wet spring and heavy rainfall the Midwest has received.

When they were evicted, the tiny house was put on a crane and moved to the Missouri side of the river where a veteran now calls it home.

Now with the first tiny house experience under their belt, the students wanted to once again help the homeless community during the 2018/19 school year. The students were able to solicit the donations that were needed for a second house. This year through the power of social media and word of mouth, even more companies wanted to be a part of building the tiny house for a veteran.

Although, they got a later start building the house, the Greenville FFA Chapter delivered the house to the homeless community in East Saint Louis. The second house went to a Gulf War Veteran this summer.

The Greenville FFA Chapter wants to once again build a house for the next school year. However, the chaplain from Central Illinois, Payne’s contact for the homeless community, just deployed to the other side of the world for a year. Without a contact to that homeless community, he is looking for a new opportunity. The hope is to reach out to the nearest veteran community in Poplar Bluff so when they build the house, it will stay local.

Payne said, “What has really been a great blessing for me is to watch them buy into the project and realize they are putting their hands on something that is helping to save someone’s life.”

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