Architecture degree is foundation for nonprofit

Washougal native is inspired to build resources in Kenya

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Learn more about Thrive, Eldoret, and ways to participate in the project.

PULLMAN -- Washougal native Scott Jones won’t be using his graduate degree in architecture to find a high-paying job. He graduated Friday and is starting his own nonprofit organization, whose first project is in Kenya.

Jones, 25, who earned his master’s in architecture at Washington State University, has been working with friends and colleagues on “Thrive,” a project whose first goal is to send a shipping container filled with books, computers, tools and building supplies to Eldoret, Kenya. Then the community of Eldoret must invest local labor, materials and staff to turn the 400-square-foot container into a 7,000-square-foot vocational training center.

“It’s like a box of Legos,” Jones said. “There are instructions and materials, but the community has to do the rest.”

The container will contain, for example, 70 trusses, which can be attached to its sides to support new walls, according to Robert Barnstone, a WSU professor of architecture and partner in the project. The container becomes the structural core of a building.

Now, Jones is focused on fundraising. Along with donated materials, Thrive needs about $100,000 for the first phase of the project. The used shipping container will cost about $3,000, and will contain enough materials to build the center, a library, and a cyber cafe with Internet access in Eldoret.

Jones is working on business plan development, writing grants and approaching such funders as USAID and the Hewlett Foundation, which support socially equitable development. After raising the money for the original investment, Jones hopes to continue to support Eldoret’s center through community development, guest lectures and local government.

“We will put in the seed money, but part of the business plan is about the autonomy of the program,” Jones said. “It’s pretty well documented that if you don’t provide a sense of ownership, programs will ultimately fail.”

The goal is to provide residents with resources to find jobs, learn new skills, and learn preventive medicine and family care, Jones said. The container will hold tools with which people can become carpenters, mechanics, plumbers, electricians and more, along with computers and Internet equipment to further their education.

Jones hopes that the center in Eldoret will become a prototype that can be applied to any marginalized community. He hopes to learn from this first project, refine his idea and then take it to a foundation that can implement it on a larger scale.

Darby Kruger, the founder of the nonprofit organization Agape Project International, met Jones in an airport in Africa where they had both been doing volunteer work. Kruger saw potential in Jones, and has been working with him since.

“Of every hundred individuals that go through that school, Scott is one of the ones worth investing in, whether it’s monetary, time or access to people,” Kruger said. “He is not a typical individual or student.”

Jones hasn’t been creating Thrive alone. Barnstone and Antony Mwengi, a civil engineering student at WSU, have played big roles in developing the proposed structure for the center. They also have a community partner in Kenya.

Jones’ fiancée Annie Holten, 26, a public relations student, has taken the lead on communication and Web development.

“I support the project … I believe in the project,” Holten said. “I love where he’s going with it, and I wanted to be a part of it in any way I could. I loved his vision and I wanted to be a part of it.”

Jones said anyone with an idea or knowledge that could further the project would be of great worth to the team -- known needs include grant-writing, construction knowledge, accounting, legal aid, promotion and more. Jones believes that all students have knowledge that could be used for the greater good.

Finance ideas, entrepreneurial skills or even ideas for lectures to give at the center are all aspects of the project that still need help, according to Holten.

Bruce Pinkleton, a WSU communication professor, has helped with promotion and research on the project. He hopes other students can see that they are also capable of making a change in the world.

“It would be cool to have had a part in any way in something so impactful for the human condition. It’s something that we’d all like to think, that at the ends of our lives we did something good,” Pinkleton said. “That’s the benefit of education -- being able to give something back is an important contribution that you can make, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Murrow News Service provides local, regional and statewide stories reported and written by journalism students at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.