By the time they were 10 and 12, the Yeung sisters had been on national TV, gotten a personal tour of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and had a face-to-face meeting with President Barack Obama.
This early notoriety followed their forays into space exploration — or at least, space-adjacent. Rebecca, now 14, and Kimberly, now 12, had visited the stratosphere three times with their Loki Lego Launcher, a homemade weather-balloon-borne science probe.
So what do you do as a follow-up to success like that? As the sisters pondered their second act, they considered several projects, such as building a backyard chicken coop and experimenting with sustainable energy. But they kept returning to another idea.
“An issue that we cared more about was homelessness, and that led us to the tiny house,” Rebecca said.
Younger sister Kimberly says she found she couldn’t ignore what she was seeing around Seattle, particularly on the way to her martial arts class in the International District.
“Every time I drive there we pass by a lot of tents and homeless people on the sides of the streets," she said. "And we really wanted to do something to solve that problem.”
Their interest led them to the Low Income Housing Institute in Seattle, which helps run several tiny house sites around the region, among other initiatives. They toured a tiny house village, and knew for certain that this was going to be their next project.
“(Homelessness) can seem insurmountable. We knew we couldn’t start something that would fix the entire problem. But by physically building a tiny house we have the capability to take at least one person off the streets,” Rebecca said.
They ordered a building kit and had it delivered to their house — two pallets’ worth of materials, and some less-than-illuminating instructions.
“I guess we were expecting, like, IKEA instructions: ‘You nail this here.’ It wasn’t like that. It was like, ‘Frame this wall,’” Rebecca said. “I don’t think the instructions were all that comforting at first.”
The sisters joined us in our studio, along with their dad Winston, to talk about spending their summer hammering, hanging windows and learning their way around a miter saw. Listen above to hear about their setbacks, triumphs and the lessons they learned.