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Engineering : For Good

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For Good: Ex-offenders to build tiny homes with Big Idea Grant funds

An established, ex-offender re-entry organization, looking to build tiny homes in South St. Petersburg, has won a $50,000 Big Idea Grant awarded by the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay.

The Pinellas Ex-Offender Re-entry Coalition won the award for its Second Chance Tiny House Manufacturing Company, which will train people coming out of jails and prisons for construction jobs, says Wilma Norton, the Foundation’s VP of Marketing and Communications.

There were 31 applications for the award that promotes self sufficiency. It is the second time the Community Foundation has offered the grant.

They’ve got partnerships with a host of people and a revenue stream to pay for the continuing cost of operation, but they need startup costs,” Norton says of PERC, which plans to build and sell tiny houses to private citizens and local government.

Michael Jalazo, PERC’s CEO/Executive Director, says the organization was “grateful and humble” to receive the award. He expects to have the first tiny house up by June.

“We’d like to see the tiny house movement take off,” he adds.

With the grant, Jalazo is looking to build at least eight tiny homes on land cleared by abandoned and condemned homes, most of them in South St. Petersburg. It is prepared to “ramp up” efforts and build even more as funds are available, he says.

In the process, he hopes to keep the ex-offenders out of jail and prison, while providing homes for the homeless.

PERC already has been given housing plans. It also has scoped out a possible location for construction: the old Lealman Fire Station.

Big Idea Grant finalists were Arriba Transportation, proposed by Enterprising Latinas of Wimauma, and Evergreen Life Services, which proposed to teach basic skills to the disabled through virtual-reality technology.

The foundation will continue to work with the finalists and other applicants to gain funding, Norton says.

In 2015, two donors came up with an extra $50,000 apiece so three non-profits could proceed with their projects.

Arriba Transportation is seeking to provide six bus routes, seven days a week, to the Wimauma/Ruskin area using 15-seat vans. Its goal is to take riders to work and school, as well as connecting them to a Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) bus route.

“We know instances where people have paid $200 to go to the Mexican Counselate in Orlando. ...” says Liz Gutierrez, the organization’s Founder and CEO. “People in this community pay $65 to get to Tampa General. We can change that.”

Evergreen Life Services offers a variety of services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Its social enterprise, HEAVENDROPt, is located in St. Petersburg, where it creates new products with parachutes used by U.S. veterans.


For Good: MOSI helps at-risk youth with STEAM partnership

A new program at MOSI will help at-risk youth develop skills needed for STEAM careers.

The program, which will begin this fall, is referred to as STEAM E4, with the STEAM referring to Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math. The four E’s are: exposure, exploration, education and employment. Middle and high school students, as well as some adults, will come to MOSI for a variety of hands-on educational experiences designed to help them develop and hone skills and become workforce-ready.

Workshops on astronomy and space exploration will be provided in MOSI’s existing Mission Moonbase, a simulated lunar base where participants learn through immersion. The Ideazone will serve as an area for hands-on education in digital and video game design and robotics.

The pilot program is a major component of MOSI Technical Institute (MTI), which aims to identify and fulfill gaps within the local workforce to ultimately connect people with jobs.

"We’re focusing on project-based activities that increase their skills set and focus on the jobs of the future," says Molly Demeulenaere, interim-president and CEO of MOSI. "People think museums are these quiet spaces where you don’t touch anything, but science centers and MOSI in particular are a hub of education and activity."

The program also includes a research component, where MOSI will continually monitor progress to determine how to eventually replicate it across the nation.

The project is a collaboration between MOSI and Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa (CDC), a nonprofit that focuses on alleviating poverty in east Tampa through programs such as job training, housing and rehabilitation. Rather than starting from scratch to identify the students who are most in need, MOSI decided to partner with the CDC who already had the students and help them fill a gap. "It’s about going to where the people are," says Demeulenaere.

The program is funded by a $149,600 grant recently received from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences (IMLS). The prestigious and highly competitive grant program helps museums and libraries further innovation and lifelong learning.
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