Pawtucket High Schoolers Build Tiny Home for Veteran Through Providence Skill-Building Program

The Center for Dynamic Learning partnered with Shea High School to turn an old shipping container into housing for veterans

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If you saw this house on HGTV, you’d probably say, “Wow, that’s super cool.” The gray box is long and slender, but it’s handsomer than your typical mobile home. The corrugated steel and white trim have a modernist appeal. The living room is lined with pine and cozily fits your basic furniture. You can tell this house used to be a shipping container, the kind you see stacked on barges. If you like tiny homes, you could easily see yourself in this one.

You would have no idea, driving past, that the house was built by high school students.

“This is the brainchild of Kevin Cunha, our principal engineer,” says Beth Cunha, executive director of the Center for Dynamic Learning. “He had been talking about this type of project for several years with his students. Kevin, as a nerd and a serious DIY Network geek, thought about how they could actually change the world using common tools and designs by everyday, average humans to deliver a beautiful home to those who deserved [it] the most.”

In theory, this is what the Center for Dynamic Learning (CDL) is known for: Giving adolescents hands-on experience in a variety of media, from theater arts to mechanical fabrication. Headquartered in South Providence, the extra-curricular institution stages plays, teaches science and engineering, and runs the Friends Through Food program. STEAM is a popular concept across American education, but at CDL, it’s perfectly common for teens to handle welding torches and construct solar-powered go-carts.

Still, building a whole house was ambitious, even for CDL. And the goal wasn’t just to raise a roof, but to provide affordable housing for veterans in need.

“The tiny house design incorporates all of the major changes needed in off-the-grid home ownership,” says Beth, “to assist in the fight against climate change as well as saving considerable money in utilities.”

The Cunhas have many personal ties to the military, including one son serving in the Army Rangers and the other as a Navy Boatsman. Kevin has veteran forefathers and received formative inspiration from a Coast Guard mentor. Their interest in helping veterans is deeply rooted, and the tiny house will likely serve as a prototype for future construction.

Naturally, after 17 successful years, the pandemic threw a wrench into CDL’s well-oiled machinery. Thirteen months ago, the Cunhas had planned a production of The Jungle Book with 120 young artists and performers, among myriad other projects. Once COVID struck, nearly all of CDL’s 28 staff members were furloughed and much of their funding dried up. Still, the Cunhas were able to partner with Shea High School and conscript about 30 students to build the new home. The house’s permanent site is on Dare to Dream Ranch, a therapeutic military retreat in Foster.

“One of Kevin’s greatest strengths is project management and strategic planning,” says Beth. “This allows the youth to train in a variety of areas and develop highly skilled technical abilities.”

The winner? Everyone. 

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