Even before the Greater Nashua Habitat for Humanity adopted and kicked off its Veterans Build initiative Nov. 15 — in which 20 veteran men and women joined together, swinging hammers in the frigid cold while building a duplex for two local families on Chestnut Street in Nashua — five of GNHFH’s eight core volunteers were veterans. One of them is 78 years old.
“It’s terrific, from my standpoint, to see what these folks, who have already volunteered to serve their country, choose to do in their free time. They keep serving their communities, and it’s a wonderful thing,” said Bill Stoughton, GNHFH president.
GNHFH announced the new Veterans Build program at a gala event for the nonprofit several weeks ago. The board will seek a veteran family for the next Veterans Build project, with construction to start next spring. That family will still have to meet the same qualifications as all Habitat homeowners (which include income, need for housing and ability to pay).
“Our partner families are typically people who have jobs. They’re working, but they’re in substandard housing with bad physical conditions or that are overcrowded. They can’t afford a mortgage to buy their own home,” Stoughton said. “These are folks who make roughly 50 percent of the median income for our area. We can typically, through our use of volunteer labor and donated materials, build a house they can afford. We don’t give them away — our partner families put in 350 hours to the construction or rehab of the house.”
The second component of Veterans Build will engage veterans in volunteer work through specialized events that could connect them to future employment.
“Our perception is that [affordable housing is] a need in the veteran community. We have a lot of people who get displaced from regular jobs [while in the military], and it’s hard for their careers to progress. If you’re in lower ranks of the military, your pay is not that great,” Stoughton said. “They’re often young families, too. … If they come home and had injuries or something like that, that may limit their earning potential as well.”
New Hampshire houses more veterans than the national average, many of whom live under the poverty line. (In 2013, for example, The State of Homelessness in New Hampshire report calculated 138 homeless vets in New Hampshire.)
The Nov. 15 event on Chestnut Street was meant to kick off this program and initiative. Veterans of all branches of the military and of various ages and carpentry abilities spent the day tacking up siding, building footings for a front porch and installing window flashing and sill channels. At noon, Great Harvest Bread Company provided soup and sandwiches, and remarks were made by Mayor Donnalee Lozeau.
Don Hamlin, a regular volunteer at GNHFH’s restore, spent the bulk of the day installing vinyl siding on an exterior wall. The house, Hamlin said, had been a six-family home before it burned down, and volunteers were working to rebuild from the ground up.
The families that will live in this home are not veteran-affiliated; this project had started last April. A veteran family will live in the house constructed next spring.
The prospective homeowners were, however, at the job site.
“We were working side by side with the people who are going to own this home. … It becomes not an abstract thought anymore,” said Hamlin, who served in Vietnam and has lived in Nashua five years. “It’s a home, so you really want to a good job.”
Mary Jarril, a Hudson resident and member of the weekly build crew who served in the military for 32 years, says volunteering, particularly with an organization like Habitat, is something that comes naturally to vets.
“A lot of the guys who came had some sort of background in construction,” Jarril said. “Military people are self-starters. They require little or no supervision.”
Her expertise is in logistics, and her specialty is finding donated or discounted materials for the crew to build with.
Stoughton agreed with Jarril; some vets may not have degrees or expansive resumes within the civilian workforce, but, he said, they have fantastic, transferable skills and work ethic.
His hope is that Veterans Build will capitalize on these characteristics.
As seen in the November 27, 2014 issue of the Hippo.