Mobilizing Corporate and Community Volunteers to Improve Veterans’ Lives, One Home Repair at a Time

Aug 22, 2017
Home Depot volunteers install turf to make a play area for the veteran homeowner’s foster children, a project organized through the HandsOn Greater Phoenix Veteran Home Improvement Program.

Providing support for the men and women who have served in the armed forces is a priority for many social organizations across the United States. Among the critical needs being addressed by these groups, such as providing access to healthcare, education and employment, is the need to help veterans find and maintain safe, sustainable housing. HandsOn Greater Phoenix, a Points of Light affiliate, has stepped up to this challenge, leveraging the power of corporate partnerships and volunteers to have an impact on the local veteran community.

The organization has been serving the Phoenix metro area for almost 25 years, connecting volunteers with opportunities to serve where they are needed most. Founded as Make A Difference in 1993, the organization set out to meet critical community needs, with a special focus on creating opportunities for working people to serve.

“There were a group of busy professionals that just liked the idea of plugging into multiple issue areas and using groups of colleagues and friends and networks to do good things in the community,” said Rhonda Oliver, president and CEO of HandsOn Greater Phoenix.

After 15 years of rapid growth, the organization re-established itself as HandsOn Greater Phoenix in 2008. Today, it functions as a traditional volunteer center, engaging all types of volunteers in more than 60 high-impact, one-time community service projects each month. But, Rhonda said, corporate volunteers are still a centerpiece of their programming.

Through a long-standing partnership with Home Depot, HandsOn Greater Phoenix mobilizes teams of community and employee volunteers for its Veteran Home Improvement Program – supporting local veterans by providing needs-based home repairs and upgrades for weatherization, code violations or other modifications.

A Home Depot volunteer paints the trim of a house to bring it back into city code compliance.

Four “Team Depot Captains” – representing the 39 Home Depot stores in the Greater Phoenix market – each conduct site visits, work with HandsOn Greater Phoenix to identify the improvements each home needs, and connect with local vendors that donate the necessary materials. Projects cover a range of activities, including painting, installing turf yards or even tree removal. Some of the most common projects are exterior paint jobs. HandsOn Greater Phoenix recruits community volunteers for these kinds of projects, as well as calling upon employee volunteers from other local businesses – among which, employees from companies like Wells Fargo, Intel and Cox are all regular contributors.

For more complex or large-scale projects, such as building ramps for disabled veterans, installing windows or walls, or other major modifications, Home Depot employees or volunteers from the vendor that donated the materials will offer up their time and skills to do the work.

“Some of our team captains have employees within their stores that have contracting-level experience,” said Steve Woodhams, a project manager at HandsOn Greater Phoenix. In one case, a Home Depot employee with experience as a contractor helped complete a renovation project that added a door in the shared wall between a veteran’s bedroom and her bathroom, giving her some added privacy as she prepared to welcome a foster child into her home. For projects like energy efficient window upgrades, where product warranties are important, employees from the window company often volunteer their time to complete the installation.

Veterans apply for the program through the HandsOn Greater Phoenix website, but they are also identified in a number of other ways, including through word of mouth and through the municipalities they live in, as cities and communities identify homes that are not up to code. The participating Home Depot stores will also identify veteran customers who would benefit from the program.

Veterans Home Improvement Program projects cover a range of activities, such as exterior painting, installing paver stones, building wheelchair ramps, tree removal and more.

In addition to veterans, HandsOn Greater Phoenix programs support many causes. Through a youth mentorship program called Your Experience Counts, adults with daytime availability are put in classrooms to work alongside teachers and help ensure students’ academic success. The organization also has an AmeriCorps VISTA program that engages 19 VISTA members as volunteer or program coordinators serving with nonprofit partners across Phoenix, building infrastructure and providing the necessary tools for the nonprofits to more effectively manage their resources. Annual events like Serve-A-Thon, Make A Difference Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and 9/11 Week of Service and Remembrance also provide opportunities for volunteers to get involved.

This year for 9/11 Day of Service, HandsOn Phoenix is planning several projects, including a letter-writing campaign for active-duty service members and a curb address painting project to help first responders identify houses when answering emergency calls. The organization is also planning a veteran home makeover through the Veteran Home Improvement Program. Volunteers will help weatherize the home of WWII veteran Maxine and her daughter, who is her caretaker. The project, which is open to general volunteer sign-ups, will provide energy-efficiency updates and bring the exterior of the home up to city code compliance.

Since its founding, HandsOn Greater Phoenix has mobilized approximately 400,000 volunteers through its programs, events and initiatives. Its partnerships with both local companies and nonprofits make it one example of the many ways that Points of Light network affiliates are using local resources to meet community needs and putting volunteers to work where they are needed most.

To get involved in a project benefitting military caregivers or veterans, visit our 9/11 Day of Service page or reach out to your local Points of Light network affiliate.

Robert Montgomery