Smith County Juvenile Services Director Ross Worley says, “The combination of vocational instruction, individual and family counseling, mentoring and life skills training have made the H.O.P.E. Academy a great success for Smith County. It took the whole team working together to make this program what it is today and I’m even more excited about the future of H.O.P.E. Academy.”

After more than a year and several setbacks, David Peters proudly shows off the tiny house built by male juvenile offenders in the Juvenile Services Vocational Program.

The goal of the building trades vocational class is to teach the kids every aspect of construction – from using hand and power tools, to drafting and designing, building floors, walls, roofing, interior and exterior finishes.

Peters, who retired from owning a construction business before going to work for the Smith County Juvenile Services Department, found the perfect project to cover it all – building a tiny house.

“The kids enjoyed getting out and working on it and being a part of the project, especially seeing it finished,” Peters said.

All of the kids in the vocational program are residents of the Juvenile Service’s H.O.P.E. (Helping Others Pursue Excellence) Academy, a six-to-nine-month residential program for male juvenile offenders, focusing on behavior modification and family/parent relationships. The children live at the Juvenile Attention Center, work with probation officers, counselors, and volunteers, including a chaplain.

Since the start of the H.O.P.E. Academy in January 2015, there have been a total of 77 residents. Six kids are currently in the program, which can typically house 12. 

The vocational program consists of woodworking, auto mechanics, welding, gardening, and life skills classes.

Peters said they began the tiny house project towards the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019, and after more than a year and a couple of setbacks, the tiny house is complete and is on display in the parking lot in front of the Juvenile Attention Center in Tyler.

“We put a lot more into this house to make it a show home,” he said.

Because of the limited funding they have for the vocational program through grants, Peters said he hopes he can get someone to completely furnish the materials for their next tiny house.

The completed tiny house cost about $11,000 total, but Juvenile Services received about $5,000 of that in donations. Peters thanked all of the businesses who donated materials to build the home, including All Seasons Window & Door; Carnes Cabinet Construction, LLC; Elliott Electric Supply; and Coburn Supply Co. (plumbing). Lowe’s also discounted the construction supplies, Peters added.

Juvenile probationers have worked on several projects, including building cedar benches and picnic tables; pouring concrete, building stairs, walls, sheds and other items for the Juvenile Services Department; and constructing ramps for disabled people at homes throughout Smith County with the Texas Ramp Association. They have also refurbished old chairs and court benches taken out of the Smith County Courthouse and constructed a podium for Commissioners Court.

The H.O.P.E. Academy direct care staff also includes Patrick Malone, Construction; Jarrett Staley, Welding and Automotive; Karla Bautista, Training and Life Skills; Rafael Vera, Horticulture; Dawn Mantooth, Counselor; Tim Fauss and Karlon Jackson, Residential Probation Officers; and Kenneth Perkins, Mentor and Life Coach.

Smith County Juvenile Services Director Ross Worley says, “The combination of vocational instruction, individual and family counseling, mentoring and life skills training have made the H.O.P.E. Academy a great success for Smith County. It took the whole team working together to make this program what it is today and I’m even more excited about the future of H.O.P.E. Academy.”