THG Blog

A Two-Family Home for Good

We are pleased to introduce the newest home in our growing collection. This property is a two-family home located on the west side of Syracuse. We acquired this home from an interested donor from outside of the city of Syracuse. The house required many renovations, including lots of plaster and lath tear-down, new drywall and wood floor refinishing. We also updated the kitchens, installed new laminate floors, and added new boilers to the house. New heating lines were installed throughout the house as well as new water lines to the second floor. The house proved to include many, many odds and ends, but finally, with a brand new, bright paint job on both the interior and exterior, the house was finished. It officially became a home when a family moved into the downstairs portion. Upstairs, we also created a new office along with a storage space. 

We want to extend a huge thank you to Bob Dougherty, Sean Redmond, Teresa Doherty, David Lunetta, Brian Clarey, along with the students from ESF who spent their Spring Break dedicating their time and energy to this home. Without the help of our volunteers, this construction, and any of our projects, wouldn't be possible. 

We are also prepping to build four more units of tiny homes later this summer. Keep up-to-date on our prep and construction through future blog posts and the upcoming release of our summer newsletter!

-Claire Stackel

Summer Intern: Claire Stackel

This summer, we are fostering a new intern in Claire Stackel. Claire is a rising sophomore at Le Moyne College where she studies finance and plays on the women’s soccer team. She first learned of A Tiny Home for Good while hearing Andrew speak at a Peak Student Development event. Peak works with business students at Le Moyne, helping to empower them through a goal setting and accountability curriculum. Claire is getting involved with THG to get a more holistic approach to higher education. Claire is hoping to experience and engage in otherwise uncommon experiences for a college student. 


Aside from this internship, Claire spends her free time either playing soccer or trying to make people laugh at her dry humor. She is a huge Seinfeld enthusiast, and she also loves anything related to Guy Fieri. Claire traveled all over the U.S. to play club soccer in high school, including Las Vegas and Fort Worth, but every year, her favorite place to play was Orlando because of her fascination with Disney World.

Claire is from a small village in Northern New York where the culture promotes neighbors helping other neighbors in need. She believes that working as an intern for THG will open her eyes to poverty and homelessness in an urban setting compared to her experiences with that of a rural setting. She looks forward to meeting all of those involved with this organization and to creating lasting bonds with a wide spectrum of people.

Claire is from a small village in Northern New York where the culture promotes neighbors helping other neighbors in need. She believes that working as an intern for THG will open her eyes to poverty and homelessness in an urban setting compared to her experiences with that of a rural setting. She looks forward to meeting all of those involved with this organization and to creating lasting bonds with a wide spectrum of people.

Emily Cattarin: SUNY - ESF Student, Head Donut Maker, and A Tiny Home for Good Volunteer

While many college students went back home or traveled to warmer climates for spring break, 18 SUNY-ESF student volunteers worked with A Tiny Home for Good on our two-family home on South Geddes Street.

Emily Cattarin, one of our volunteers, is a freshman SUNY-ESF studying Environmental Resources Engineering. Originally from Massachusetts, Emily is passionate about anything outdoors including hiking and running. She was the Head Donut Maker at a supermarket back home, where she made unique flavored donuts like chocolate strawberry, pumpkin, and apple cider.  Check out our interview with her to learn more about our ESF Spring Break Retreat!

THG: How did you find out about A Tiny Home for Good and the ESF Spring Break Retreat?

Emily: One of my friends had done it last spring break, so he mentioned it to me. Then, Amelia Hoffman (Academic Success and Community Service Coordinator at SUNY- ESF), sent out an email about it right as I was trying to figure out what to do for spring break. I was looking into it and she showed me all sorts of pictures of things that they did last year and it looked really cool.


THG: What made you interested in doing this program?

Emily: I think what peaked my interest is just that I was totally clueless. I just got here in August. I’ve been able to adventure out a little, but I’ve never really gone past I-81. Amelia explained to me that I would have the chance to actually learn about homelessness and what it’s actually like in the City of Syracuse. I was just really curious and I like doing volunteer work. I was excited to learn about Syracuse because I am going to be here for four years.


THG: Do you have any other volunteering experience?

Emily: I taught CCD for three years and so I worked with children a lot. I’ve also spent time building trails – that’s actually my job this summer. So I volunteered for that twice and realized that I like doing manual labor and building things. It seemed like building houses was kind of like building log bridges.

THG: What did you learn from this experience?

Emily: So much…Obviously, we learned a lot about the situation over there- that there are people that are struggling. The main day that got me was when we cooked spaghetti and meatballs for 150 of the people at the Catholic Charities men’s shelter. Giving them a warm meal – the way I thought about homeless shelters I assumed that there’s a warm meal every night. But we were told that once a month they get a warm meal. So, we were giving them huge bowls of spaghetti and meatballs and bread and lemonade – and they were just so happy. That kind of showed me that those are the people we are working to help.


THG: Did this experience have any effect on your future goals or aspirations or how you view homelessness?

Emily: I think it definitely changed the way I see things. Initially, I thought to myself “I’ll just drop-out of school and do this” because it was so enjoyable. But, realistically, I can see myself working on projects like this wherever I end up. Also, it’s cool now because I have a connection to the other students who also did the project. Overall, it has definitely made me more aware of what’s going on outside of campus.


THG: Is there anything else you want to say about your experience?

Emily: It was incredible. I wish it never ended. I mean Andrew – it’s amazing how passionate he is. There was no point during the week when it seemed like he was going to stop working. One of the nights as we were leaving, while we working on the two family house, he asked all of us if there was anything we were going to need for tomorrow. I had peeled carpet off the floor that day because there was this sticky stuff that I had been scraping at, and I had been using this tiny bottle of Goo-Gone. I told Andrew that I needed more Goo-Gone. So, when I come in the next day, there’s an industrial-size metal canister of Goo-Gone that says “Emily!” on it and he said “there you go!” He was so excited to bring us things that we would need for the house because he knew it would make our jobs easier and we would enjoy it more.

Staying Vs. Living

Last week I had a chance to hear Sean Kirst, the longtime Syracuse columnist and author of the wildly popular The Soul of Central New York. He spoke about Syracuse, his book, community and everything in between. A powerful speaker, Sean left me thankful to be a part of this community. But during his talk, almost in passing, Sean said one thing in particular that stuck with me. Sean found that children in the inner city refer to the place where they sleep as the place that they “stay.” Not “live” but “stay.”

I’ve found this same trend with individuals facing homelessness. My first question to someone facing homelessness I have not seen in some time is, “Where have you been staying?” The implications of that question are profound. I don’t ask where they live. I ask where they stay. I ask because I know the answer is going to be different from day to day. Could be at  shelter. Under a bridge. In an abandoned home. On a friends couch. At the emergency room. In jail. The bus station lobby. An ATM alcove…

In contrast, it would sound silly if I was to ask a 25 year home owner, “Hey, where have you been staying these days?” “Uhh, in my house?” There would be no question. And the advantages that come with that certainty, with that permanency, are invaluable.

·         You’ve got an address so you can get mail and apply for work.

·         You’ve got a shower to stay clean and healthy.

·         You’ve got your own bed to support sound sleep.

·         You’ve got a medicine cabinet to store your medication.

·         You’ve got a place that when you come home in the evening, you know all of your belongings will be right where you left them.

Imagine if you did not have just one of those. Imagine how hard it would be to keep it all together. Imagine holding down a job if you didn’t have access to a regular shower. Or paying bills if you had no desk to organize them. Or staying healthy if you had no safe place to store your medication. A lot comes with stability.  But for individuals facing homelessness, that stability simply does not exist. They “stay” in places and don’t “live” in places.  

I guess that is what we are trying to do at A Tiny Home for Good. Foster permanency. Offer stability. Provide a home. I hope that our residents are now asked, “Hey, where do you live?” There is power in that question.

-Andrew Lunetta

Our People: Bill Elkins

There are so many people who donate their time and talent to A Tiny Home for Good. Recently, we sat down with THG board member, Bill Elkins. Bill is currently retired and serves on the THG Board as the architect.  Read more to learn about how Bill became an architect and found THG!


THG:  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Bill Elkins:  I started my working life as a salesman, the absolute last thing on all of those tests that I should’ve done.  I wasn’t good at it and I hated it. I did it for seven years. Then I went to architecture school when I was twenty-eight.  I ended up at Syracuse. We [Bill and his wife]came from Rochester when we were very young. We moved here and bought a house and I became a full-time student.


THG: How did you figure out that you wanted to pursue architecture?

Elkins: I had no idea because I had no exposure to architects. I grew up in a small town and didn't know a single architect. After we were married, we bought a house. It was a little junker and I worked on fixing it up. I wasn’t any great carpenter or anything, but somehow, I started thinking about it.  I didn’t say anything to my wife, but my office in Rochester was the old women’s campus at the University of Rochester, which had then been turned into offices, institutions and various things.  There was an architecture firm next door and I just wandered over there one day and there was one guy in the office and I just said “I’m thinking about architecture school and I just wanted to talk to somebody.” And the guy says “do you like coffee?” I said “yeah.”  And he says “then you can be an architect!”


THG: What happened after that?

Elkins: So, I was accepted by a graduate student, except I wasn’t the first year. They looked at my undergraduate grades and said “not so hot.” I said “I know, but I have a child, I have a job, I own a home.” They said “well that’s something good, but we’d kind of like you to take a basic design course.” So, on my way home from work three nights a week in Rochester, I stopped at RIT and took a night design course.  I did well in that.  And then, I get out of school and it was difficult to find a job.  The economy was shot. But, I found a job at a firm and I was with them for seven years.  They were just starting to talk about computers and a couple of the partners said “it’ll never catch on in this business.”  And I said “Yes! Yes, it will! We got to do it! We got to do it!” They said “No.” So I went on my own. 


THG: How did you get involved with A Tiny Home for Good?

Elkins: She [Bill’s wife] volunteers Thursday mornings at the Samaritan Center and Andrew [Lunetta] was doing that pretty regularly.  She got to know him there. I had met him at the gym at SU. I nodded at him and said “good morning.” But I think she was in the gym and saw him during graduation week.  She said “so Andrew, are you going to go off to Washington and make big bucks? He said “no, I have this dream.” My wife said “Why don’t you talk to my husband about this?”  She just came to my office, handed me this phone number and said “This is Andrew’s number.  I’m not telling you what to do…” But I got this sort of romantic notion of doing Tiny Homes and I thought “this is so cool.”


THG: What do you think makes this organization unique to other non-profits?

Elkins:  Well it seems to me that just hearing my own personal friends talk about it - it’s something that they can get their heads around.  They can see these homes being built.  They know that people are being taken care of.  It’s something where if they donate money they can actually see something.  Most people’s connection with the homeless is they see them at the interchange at the off-ramps.


THG: How has your perception of the homeless been affected by your involvement with THG?

Elkins: Well, I think the exposure, meeting some of these guys and finding out, not so much their stories, but just finding that human quality in these people.  They’re just like the rest of us. It’s just that they have had some bad luck or some tough times or whatever it is.  I think that’s kind of what’s really drawn me in and kept my interest. 

Thank you for reading!

Bill Wilkins (far right)

Watercolor painting by Bill Elkins

Watercolor painting by Bill Elkins