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Thanks to the work of Jordan-Elbridge High School students, a homeless veteran will soon have a roof over their head — and five solar panels.

Four ninth-grade Jordan-Elbridge High School students — Alexis DelFavero, Alena DeLap, Dawson Dunham and Madison Weir — raised around $3,500 to buy solar panels for a tiny house. A tiny house is a house under 500 square feet, with a focus on economic sustainability and simplifying one's lifestyle. DelFavero, 14, said she was happy to help make a difference for a veteran. She said she had never heard of a tiny house before the endeavor started, and was hesitant to take it on at first. She eventually became convinced the students would make their goal happen.

The students teamed up with the solar power company CNY Solar and A Tiny Home for Good, which provides tiny houses for homeless people in Syracuse and has recently focused on homeless veterans. A Tiny Home for Good is expected to announce who will be getting the house sometime this month, said Ray Panek, a teaching assistant at Jordan-Elbridge Middle School and the adult organizer of the project.

Panek said the project began when he started an entrepreneur club at the middle school in 2016. He wanted the club to teach the importance of socially conscious entrepreneurship to students, such as focusing on renewable resources.

One of the methods researched by the students, who were at the middle school at the time, was solar energy systems. As they learned that many tiny houses run on electricity rather than gas, Panek said, looking into solar panels to generate electricity seemed obvious. He said the students learned during their research that there is a large number of homeless veterans in Syracuse. A 2017 report on veteran homelessness in New York state from the office of state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said there were 1,248 homeless veterans in the state in 2016. DelFavero said her fellow students' interest in veterans was also sparked when her grandfather, Hank Bubel, a Vietnam War veteran, spoke to them about issues veterans face.

"It's crazy that the veterans, they serve us, and then they come home to nothing," DelFavero said.

Additional research for the students included training at CNY Solar for a day to learn how to design solar panels, Panek said, and meeting with different homeless veterans.

By winter 2017, the students decided to use the idea of putting solar panels on a tiny house to benefit veterans as a theoretical proposal for a community project for the school's International Baccalaureate program, which requires extensive research and a small community service component, Panek said.

The students determined in March that they wanted to continue their efforts beyond the community project at the end of that school year, and make efforts to buy the panels.

"The kids said, 'Hey, we're not done. We want to see this through to the end,'" Panek said.

The students then teamed with the nonprofit organization Street Addiction Institute to raise money for the panels on the fundraising site GoFundMe. The story of students raising money to buy solar panels to help veterans was picked up by Syracuse media, which helped increase donations. Panek said the students raised around $3,400 online and donated around $180 that the club made through recycling. DelFavero said the deadline for fundraising was extended a couple times to get as much money as possible.

"We just wanted to help pay for the solar panels as much as we could because we wanted to help the veterans as much as we could," she said.

The students helped on the day of the installation, but couldn't get on the roof. CNY Solar installed the five panels onto the home. DelFavero said she believed every student had talents that helped make the project a reality. For example, she said she believed she had more experience with public speaking than her classmates, and that her work running her own business, Forever Jewels by Alexis, helped as well. She credits the project with making her a more confident speaker.

Panek said the organizations that got involved with the initiative were vital to it coming to fruition. He added that he is proud of his students' determination. 

"If (the students) have an idea, they shouldn't let money or lack of resources stop them," he said.

DelFavero said she was thrilled by the community's support of the project.

"I've seen more of the good in people," she said. "They're willing to help."

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Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.


Education Reporter