Central Illinois Veterans
Commission and Tiny Home Project rapidly gaining momentum
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[April 29, 2021]
Monday evening, while guests stood in line to greet Illinois Senator
Sally Turner in her new office in Lincoln, they also had the
opportunity to sign a two-by-four for an upcoming tiny home for a
veteran, and visit the new offices of the Central Illinois Veterans
The office for the CIVC is located across the hall from Turner’s
office in the Farm Bureau Building, 120 S. McLean Street, Lincoln.
Currently there are no office hours as volunteers Joe Schaler and
Marsha Fernades are in an out constantly working on the many
projects required in order to accomplish the goal of building small
dwellings for homeless veterans.
In the office Monday evening, Schaler and Fernades were both spoke
with guests about the CIVC and the 2 X 4s for Hope project.
Schaler talked about the formation of the CIVC, the board structure,
and the enormous outpouring of generosity the CIVC has seen since,
and even before, the ground breaking ceremony for the first tiny
home on April 24th.
While the CIVC has been in the spotlight quite a bit in the last few
weeks, the organization has actually been working on the home
building projects for more than two years.
Schaler explained that the formation of the CIVC came about when
there was a push to obtain property on the old Lincoln Developmental
Center campus to build a veteran community that would offer housing
as well as other needed services for veterans in central Illinois.
With the LDC property belonging to the state of Illinois, Schaler
said that discussions with the state had included the need to form a
501c3 non-profit organization that would be able to accept the
property from the state. He noted that the state officials he was
dealing with had said that they could not turn the property over to
the city of Lincoln as was the original thought, nor could they just
turn it over to an unofficial group of people. Thus Schaler was
advised to form a 501c3, establish a board and move forward from
The organization was formed and worked continued toward the end goal
of acquiring the LDC property. Then, the state announced that the
LDC property would be utilized for a youth detention center, and the
hope of getting it for veterans was lost.
Schaler said the board knew that if they were going to accomplish
their goal, they would have to shift gears and look for other
It was then that 2 X 4s for Hope came into play. Schaler said that a
trip to Quincy to the veteran’s home to retrieve some wheelchairs
that needed repair brought the opportunity to meet with Mark and
Chris Lawrence of 2 X 4s for Hope. The Lawrences explained their
special tiny home building project and showed off the homes that
they had built in the Quincy area. That started the ball rolling and
the CIVC Board was ready to take the next steps.
They would need property. With no money, not only would they need
property, they would need property donated to the cause. When Haji
Patel offered his vacant lot at the corner of College and Sixth
streets, then the board had something tangible they could work with
and they were able to envision the end goal on the horizon.
Schaler said that originally, the CIVC had gone to the city to seek
a zoning allowance to build four tiny homes on the lot. Then they
changed their plan slightly and decided that the lot would be better
suited for three homes. He said this would give each home a little
more green space which would be good for the veterans and also add
to the curb appeal on that lot.
With the property acquired, the next step was going to be to raise
money for the building projects. The two-by-four signing events were
a great way to do so. The two-by-fours have been taken to schools in
Lincoln and will also be taken to other communities in the near
future. In addition, the signing event held on Saturday in the
parking lot of RP Lumber in Lincoln brought in a lot of people.
Though making a donation was not required in order to sign a board,
many who stopped in Saturday did stick a few dollars in the
collection bucket, and those dollars are adding up.
On Monday evening Schaler noted that the board has calculated that
when they get done with all the schools, they will have collected
more than 2,000 signatures, plus the signatures from community
members. Many of the signatures have been accompanied by personal
messages from the signer. Schaler said that the outpouring of
support shown on the lumber is amazing.
Though the two-by-fours are a vital part of the build, Schaler said
that the outpouring of support and love on those pieces was just the
beginning of a movement that is now snowballing almost to the point
of being overwhelming.
The groundbreaking Saturday was televised by a few stations in the
area. The news stories were televised on Saturday evening. Schaler
said the calls started coming in on Saturday evening after those
news reports. The first was a 6 p.m. Saturday evening when a
business owner from Springfield called Schaler and said he wanted to
help. The gentleman owns a dry walling business and wants to give
his services to the build. Another call came from Bloomington when a
gentleman said he had a crew of builders that he would make
available to the tiny home project.
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The third call came from a construction company in Decatur. Schaler
said the owner of the company wanted to help with the Lincoln homes,
and he wanted to start a project in Decatur with the help of the
When the stories were published in local news media at the beginning
of the week, the calls kept coming. Schaler said that he has heard
from other communities in the county who also want to build homes in
their towns, so the list of upcoming projects is also growing
Schaler said that the Lincoln Art Institute also reached out and
invited the CIVC to bring some two-by-fours to their wine tasting
fundraiser on Saturday, and Bob Burger, owner of McQuellen’s
Appliance, had reached out and said he wanted to help with
appliances for the homes.
Schaler noted, “The outpouring of donations and donations of in kind
services is just very humbling. If our veterans don’t know now how
much they are loved, they will never know.”
While Schaler and Fernandes are the obvious faces of the CIVC,
Schaler said that the CIVC Board is an outstanding group, fully
committed to working to help local veterans. Members of that board
include Dan Benedict with the Logan County Veteran’s Commission,
Rachel Oney with the local Salvation Army, Patti Becker with the
United Way of Logan County, Chuck Conzo, Fernades and Schaler.
The Board also includes an ex officio member Bill Thomas
representing the Logan County Economic Development Partnership.
While sharing about the board members, Schaler recalled a story
about Patti Becker. During a board meeting the group was reviewing
the materials list for the building project. He said that the list
included a large number of electrical fixtures and materials.
Becker, who is retired from Eaton, took that electrical list, and
within 15 minutes after the end of the meeting she came back to
Schaler and said the electrical would be handled by Eaton. Eaton has
a community grant program and Becker had gotten the tiny home
project on their list of grant recipients with just a phone call.
And, Schaler said even the space the CIVC is now using for an office
is donated. With the project taking life, there was a need for an
official address. It was Jim Drew and the Logan County Farm Bureau
who stepped up to fill that need. Schaler said he had been contacted
and the general conversation was “you need a space, we have a space;
you can have it.”
Schaler said it was all just so overwhelming. The CIVC is working
with no money but yet everything is coming together. He said that
all the board members including himself and Fernades are
volunteering their time, no one is earning a paycheck. All the money
they are raising is going into getting new permanent homes for
veterans, and that is only happening because the board has a passion
for what it is doing, is actively promoting the project, and the
community is responding with open hearts and wallets.
The nomination process is now underway for the first tiny home.
Schaler said that a nomination form will be on the CIVC website. The
form can be filled out and submitted to the CIVC. Nominations for
the new homes can come from the veteran him/herself or from a friend
or relative who would like to see their veteran get a hand up in the
The nominations will be accepted through May, with intentions of
making a selection for the first home recipient in early June.
Schaler noted that the project doesn’t really stop with giving a
home. There are many wrap around services to assist the veteran to
have a better life. The group is working with several partners to
provide counselling, education, job training and more.
Agencies the CIVC is working with to provide those services include
the Logan County Veterans Assistance Commission, Salvation Army,
Logan County Department of Public Health, SIU School of Medicine,
Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital, Lincoln College and the Lincoln
Park District. Schaler said there are also others stepping up to
offer wrap around services, and the list will have to be updated as
time goes by.
Schaler concluded saying there is no way he can effectively express
the gratitude he feels for the outpouring of love he and his board
are seeing for local veterans. He noted, “When you get this kind of
response, well, that’s when you know, you are doing something
Anyone who wants to be part of this amazing project is encouraged to
reach out to the CIVC board members or contact the group via
telephone or email. The phone number for the CIVC is 217-828-9366
and the email address is email@example.com
The CIVC also has a website
and a Facebook page.