One Tiny Home and Two Big Hearts Spark Impact // From Sarasota Magazine
Sarasota, FL, April 7th, 2022 - Two Gulf Coast Community Foundation donors, Mr. Walt and Mrs. Renee Eppard, reached a point in their life where they wanted to start giving back and they knew a donor advised fund was the right way to do it. Walt, a former electrical engineer, and Renee, with a fifteen-year background in workforce development, knew how important it was for the community to have a good pool of people to hire. Walt’s past work included the trades and he was keen on enhancing trade classes in our region. Walt is passionate about helping students who are not on a traditional college or university career path. He wanted to make a difference and help students in the trades support themselves and their families. Walt felt strongly that those with vocational technical jobs could do very well for themselves. He knew those students needed an extra boost and that he could be a force of inspiration to them.
The Eppards met with Kirstin Fulkerson at Gulf Coast Community Foundation and visited several sites related to the trades. They landed at CareerEdge Funders Collaborative whose tagline is: Training the Next Generation of Skilled Workers. Walt worked with different trades to put classes together. He focused specifically on hands-on training. Then, COVID-19 hit. Students could no longer go on field trips or perform off-site visits. Mireya Eavey, former Vice President of CareerEdge worked closely with Dr. Ron DiPillo, Executive Director of Suncoast Technical College (STC), and an industrial program manager at STC, to purchase a tiny home. The Eppards donated $35,000 to make this tiny home become a reality. The tiny home was a perfect fit because it was a hands-on learning opportunity for skilled trades students. Suncoast Technical College shared with Gulf Coast that the Eppards provided the financial means to build the tiny home. The Eppards made it possible to provide a unique tiny house classroom for these students.
In late 2020, students enrolled in programs like building trades, construction design technology, drafting, and plumbing, and built out the tiny home. As the project developed, 185 students worked on the tiny home, and eight industrial programs and digital design students created the banner and artwork inside the home. The students earned a whopping total of 145 industry-recognized certifications. The Eppards generosity allowed those 185 students to get hands on experience they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. All of this leads to a positive impact on our workforce. “Working with the tiny house helped me learn new skills and develop pre-existing skills. Being a part of the tiny house has helped me learn how to help coordinate all the skills to get a project done, as well as learn what each position does,” said Zack Fitzpatrick, Building Trades and Construction Design Technology student at STC. Zack shared his first pursuit was not construction, rather it was nursing. Zack encourages students that if you haven’t found your passion yet - keep searching.
The tiny home has two purposes moving forward. First, it will serve as a living classroom, adapting with technology and material donations. Second, it will live as a traveling showcase to promote skilled trades and tiny homes. All of the donors combined provided approximately $60,000 of cash and in-kind financial support to make this collaboration happen.
Walt and Renee Eppard have a passion for inspiring students to do more. If you’re interested in making an impactful difference in our region, visit us at https://www.gulfcoastcf.org/.