Kent State volunteers build a home for Ravenna’s homeless


Freshmen construction management major Art Schuessler drills a stud in a wall at the Haven of Portage County. 

Michael Indriolo

Kent State construction management students grabbed hand saws, hammers and levels as they renovated a soon-to-be homeless shelter’s housing unit Saturday.

Located on the border of Kent and Ravenna, the Haven of Portage County is an under-construction homeless shelter founded by Mark Miller, the pastor of Portage Community Chapel. Since last Fall, construction management students have been repairing the property’s preexisting buildings.  

“They’ve already been out there four times,” Miller said. “They’ve done everything from getting the kitchen equipment sterilized to working on the safe house.”

Anthony Guerriero, the volunteer chair of the construction management student organization, met with Miller last August and has since coordinated service days with the Haven. Although Kent State volunteers have periodically worked on the shelter for nearly six months, Guerriero said they have ample work ahead.

“Most of our work in the main building is still down the road as they’re waiting to get rid of some asbestos and some other stuff that’s in there,” Guerriero said. “We’re excited for next year and for moving forward to help them with demo and painting.”

In the meantime, three other construction management students joined Guerriero Saturday to remodel the property’s other building that will become the Haven’s long-term housing unit.

Freshmen construction management major Art Schuessler said he viewed volunteering at the Haven as an ordinary day with his friends.

“It’s fun, i’m having a good time doing it,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Why not?’ I don’t even think about it as a job. I’m just thinking about it as coming out, having some fun and doing what I love.”

Freshmen construction management major Kyle Leitch also said he volunteers at the shelter because he enjoys the work.

“I like doing it,” Leitch said. “The fact that I’m helping people out while having fun just makes it better.”

Beyond fun, the Haven’s construction project provided junior construction management major Justin Gusbar the opportunity to utilize skills he’s learned in class.

“I like more hands-on work,” Gusbar said. “I’ve never built a homeless shelter before so it’s something new.”

For Guerriero, volunteering extends beyond his position on the construction management student organization’s board: it’s also his duty as a Christian.

“It’s tough to describe, being able to serve the community, volunteer and help in this capacity just gives you a feeling that’s unmatched,” Guerriero said. “As you’re doing it, what you’re doing could be tough work or not necessarily enjoyable, but it’s really going to serve those who need it most and that’s really our responsibility.”

Since he enrolled at Kent State last year, Guerriero expanded the student organization’s service-oriented culture. Last year, it hosted service days roughly once a month, but this year volunteer opportunities spring up every weekend.

For Guerriero, working with the Haven furthers that culture because it allows students to impact the community they live in.

“It’s just a great way to see and physically feel what we’re discussing in a way that you can’t learn in the classroom,” he said. “To be able to do that while serving other people is amazing for us.

Guerriero’s volunteer team is the latest development in Kent State and the Haven’s relationship, which sprouted in 2017 when Miller bought the Haven’s property. Miller reached out to Michael Bruder, the executive director of Kent State’s facilities and planning department, through one of his chapel’s parishioners. Bruder coached Miller through planning and helped draw up the Haven’s blueprints. 

“Michael got everything started, and we probably are keeping two-thirds of what he drew,” he said. “The architectural department got everything off the ground.”

As the Haven team fought for zoning permits, the Portage County Building Department’s tough questions forced Miller to refine his vision. He sought to provide not only shelter, but a path back into society for people who’ve experienced human trafficking and homelessness.  

“We want to take you from every dimension from the night of crisis, we don’t care if you’re on alcohol, substance or whatever, we want to take you from there, get you asylum, get you the detox help that you need, and we’ll provide housing while you’re doing that if we need to,” Miller said.

After Portage County approved the Haven’s zoning permits, Guerriero contacted Miller to establish volunteer opportunities for his student organization. Between Bruder and Guerriero, Kent State has played a fundamental role in the Haven’s conceptualization and construction.

“We’ve been really, really appreciative of Kent’s involvement from the very beginning,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s ever been a time that we haven’t had a connection with Kent State.”

Michael Indriolo covers social services. Contact him at [email protected].