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Culver Academies students helped build Habitat home for formerly homeless veteran

Tom Coyne

March 9, 2023

A veteran from Kokomo who lost his home to foreclosure nearly 15 years ago is a homeowner again after moving into a house that Culver Academies students helped work on through Habitat for Humanity.

Kevin Dyer, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, moved into the one-story, three- house that took more than a year for volunteers with Habitat for Humanity to build. Dyer was homeless for several years, living occasionally at the Kokomo Rescue Mission, before moving into an apartment for homeless and disabled veterans. He moved into the Habitat house last month.

“I feel great,” Dyer told the Kokomo Tribune. “It means a lot to me. There’s nothing like a house. Apartment living is quite different than tKehis.”


Kevin Dyer, a formerly homeless veteran, works on his Habitat for Humanity home with Culver students last spring. He recently moved into the home. 


Culver students spent a day last spring working on the house. Students from Culver have been taking Global Pathways Spring service trips to Mexico for decades to build houses for families who have never had their own homes. When last year’s trip over spring break was canceled because of COVID, the Culver students instead signed up to work over break on the project in Kokomo.

“It was an opportunity for students to still have a meaningful experience helping others,” said Dana Neer, Ph.D., Culver’s director of wellness.

The plan was to have students work on the house for three days, but it rained the final two days. The crew still managed to backfill around the foundation and put up the exterior walls and most of the interior walls during their day on the job.

“That’s a huge amount of work to get done in one day,” said Jed Trefren, a senior counselor for the Band unit who helped organize the effort, and a Marine Corps veteran himself. “They built their first wall, and then got another wall built and stood those up and it was like, ‘Wow, we’re building the house right now.’ I think they surprised themselves.”

Trefren said it was rewarding to see the students gain skills and confidence as the day wore on.

“Some of these kids had never grabbed a tool in their lives. They were banging these 16-penny nails into the walls,” Trefren said. “It was so cool to watch and to see them … not just the skill, but the gratification of seeing that come together was very rewarding.”


Culver Academies students help put up a wall on a home in Kokomo last spring.


Bingshen (Jerryson) Jiang ’25, who is from Qingdao, China, said he was happy to help a veteran and also enjoyed the work. He said the students got some training on the proper way to hammer and use other tools.

“It was a great experience. The most interesting part was hammering the nails, because that really determines the stability of the house,” he said.

“While I was growing up, people would say, ‘Things you will do will impact people a lot.’ Habitat for Humanity provided me with a chance to actually feel that way because we could turn a person who was homeless into a person with a home. That’s really impressive,” he said.

Treferen, who served eight years in the Marines, said it was especially gratifying for him to help a fellow Marine.

“It’s tough to see someone down on their luck, but it’s good to have that connection because he’s a hard worker,” he said.

Habitat requires people to put in at least 250 volunteer hours of “sweat equity” to be eligible for a home. Dyer put in more than 1,000 hours.

The Culver students were disappointed that rain prevented them from continuing to work on the house. On the second day, they worked at Habitat’s warehouse where they helped reorganize materials. On the third day, they helped reorganize at a Habitat store, which sells household items and building materials.

Neer said working on a wood house in Kokomo was quite different from building a home in Mexico, where the primary building materials are blocks, and occasionally brick, and the crews are constantly making mortar.


Culver Academies students work on a Habitat for Humanities home last spring.


“We mix all our own mortar and we do it all by hand,” Neer said. “You have to keep that cement in production. You can’t run out. Because if you run out, everyone else is left standing around. So they learn teamwork.”

Neer will be leading a team of 18 students and five adults on a trip to build a home in Mexico during spring break, the 64th house for Culver students. They are there for 10 days, including two days of travel, and will be working on a house for six days. In previous years, Culver students went to Amecameca, Mexico, 35 miles southeast of Mexico City. This year they are going to Port Escondido on the southwest coast of Mexico.

Before the pandemic, the largest group to make the trip was 45 students and 10 adults.

Neer said he’s also planning a Habitat for Humanity build for Culver Academies employees on April 22 in Plymouth. Volunteers will be excavating and seeding a yard.

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