Powerful Picnic Table Project

Sam Barlow Student Mason McCarl

More than 40,000 Portland Oregon residents saw the direct impact of HBF encouraging careers in residential construction this summer. Home Builders Foundation-Home Aid Portland (HBF) leveraged funds from the National Housing Endowment’s Career Connections Grant to create a project that inspires future builders, and helps Portland’s homeless population.

HBF staff wanted to connect local construction training programs with our mission to help build or improve shelter housing. Picnic tables are a perfect amenity to offer the many temporary housing villages Portland is establishing to deal with a crisis of people living on city streets. We offered two high school programs we had worked with previously the needed materials and a picnic table plan from NAHB to pilot the “Picnic Table Project”. Our objective was to show students the impact a career in building can make on a community. The Career Connections Grant was augmented by donations of cedar from local supplier International Wood Products, and further financial donations from Bank of America, obtained through HomeAid WORKS.

High Schools Help out

Reynolds Learning Academy

We delivered materials to Sam Barlow High School, and Reynolds Learning Academy, along with the needed nails and fasteners. The two teachers reported students were able to complete the tables in a few days. Chris McDowell, HBF Project Manager, estimates each table cost about $400 in materials, as he used high quality lumber. In all, four tables were completed and delivered at the end of the school year to two different Portland transitional housing sites. Known as “Safe Rest Village” sites, these villages house people in pre-fabricated structures made by “Pallet”, and include common buildings for bathrooms and kitchens. Typically, these facilities have few places for the residents to enjoy the outdoors. The shelter operators were enthusiastic about the donations of the new tables.

Constructing Connections

McDowell took the project one step further in mid-July. An experienced volunteer manager, Chris scheduled two July building sessions with an adult pre-apprenticeship program we support, Constructing Hope. Constructing Hope trainees are low income, BIPOC individuals, the majority whom were formerly incarcerated. McDowell led the summer- session trainees using his own design. He walked the trainees through measuring, cutting, building, and staining the new tables. In all, the program built 10 sturdy cedar picnic tables in two morning sessions.  

Constructing Hope tables in progress

Trainee Jai Hurdle told us “I’m having a blast, this is a lot of fun, it’s giving me some good skills, some real- world experience. I’m looking forward to doing more.” Constructing Hope’s instructor Irving Brown praised the project as well. “Typically, trainees frame a shed that they then take apart after the program. The picnic table project was great.” HBF gifted one of the tables to Constructing Hope for them to sell at an upcoming fundraising event.

Chris McDowell (upper right) and his proud pupils

The construction and subsequent gift of the tables won the attention of a Portland City Councilperson, Dan Ryan, who shared the story on his social media pages. Ryan said “I want to recognize the fantastic work of the Home Builders Foundation-HomeAid Portland for their support of shelters all around our region…They combine skill-building programs with partners at Constructing Hope, Sam Barlow High and Reynolds Learning Academy with donations of their final product to shelters.”

BIPOC Village tables

Sharing the Story

Newberg, Oregon


Further, HBF was able to show more than 40,000 people the Picnic Table Project, and to tell them about HBF/ HBA Metro Portland’s workforce development programs. Two of the tables were placed on display at the annual NW Natural Street of Dreams. The tables featured a sign about the Picnic Table Project, acknowledging the NAHB Career Connection Grant. After the show, the tables were donated to Harvest House in Newberg, where HBF will be assisting with a remodeling project this fall.  

The Picnic Table Project is such a hit, we will continue the program this fall. HBF will share the story and photos in a mailing to the 30 Metro area construction CTE high school program this fall, and will offer to extend the Picnic Table Project to other students in the 2022-23 school year.

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