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Habitat for Humanity of Omaha Allocates Recycling Funds to Veterans Program

In our continuing series of conversations with members, NRC interviewed Mark Coffin, volunteer Veteran Outreach Coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of Omaha. A veteran of the U.S. Army, Mark has served around the world over the course of 27 years, stationed in various stateside assignments as well as South Korea, Panama, Germany, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
NRC: Will you describe Habitat’s Veteran Outreach/Repair Program?

The Habitat Omaha Veteran Outreach/Repair Program has been in place since 2014. In 2018, the leadership of Habitat Omaha made the decision to allow funds generated from recycling to be allocated to the Veteran Outreach Programs budget. The goal of these programs is to assist veterans with staying in their home and ensure that the necessary repairs are made to keep it safe and functional for the entire family.

One part of Habitat for Humanity of Omaha’s Veteran Outreach/Repair Program is engagement with local Veteran Organizations to encourage volunteer participation in our building/rehab efforts. Depending on the type of work required, volunteers are recruited from the veterans community who are interested in serving other vets. Habitat provides the tools and materials and the vet group provides the labor. Veterans come together to serve in their local community just as they served their country. In addition, the outreach includes taking nominations for vets who own their homes and could use a little extra assistance doing minor repairs, painting, landscaping, debris removal/management, etc. Twenty-one Veteran Outreach Projects were completed in 2018.

Secondly, Habitat Omaha has a Veteran Repair Program in partnership with the Home Depot Foundation. This program is designed to assist the veteran homeowner with critical repairs to their home, such as new roof, siding, windows, insulation, retaining walls, driveways, heating and air, etc. Veterans must reside in the counties of Sarpy, Douglas, Washington or Burt Counties, must own the home, have current insurance on the property, and fall within certain income parameters to be eligible. Up to 15K is available for critical repairs with the homeowner paying an application fee of $150.00 dollars and conducting two (2) hours of sweat equity with Habitat for access. Seven Veteran Critical Repair Projects were completed in 2018 with a value of approximately $105,000.

A third program is with the Veteran Administration Supportive Housing (VASH) Program to assist homeless veterans with a transition to a home or apartment. These homes/apartments are not furnished and the vet needs assistance with that. Habitat provides appliances from our ReStores, e.g. stove, frig, washer, dryer at no cost to the veteran.

Finally, Habitat Omaha works to recycle scrap from the homes we rehab. All proceeds from our recycling efforts are donated to the Veteran Outreach Budget to allow us to support more families. During 2018, Habitat recycled more than 25,000 lbs. (over 12.5 tons) of material bringing in just over $3000.00 dollars in proceeds to supplement our Veteran Outreach Budget.

NRC: How did the idea for this program arise in the first place?

Habitat Omaha seeks to not only be a good steward of the earth’s resources, but also to encourage others to do the same. As such, we have undertaken a number of efforts to incorporate recycling into our build and rehab program. When Habitat’s recycling revenue was added to the Veteran Outreach/Repair Program budget, it provided our personnel with a concrete and visible means to see the results of their recycling efforts via income generated and veterans served.

NRC: What were the most difficult aspects or surprises of implementing the program and how did you handle them?

These programs started small and once they began to show results in terms of the number of families and disabled veterans served, the budget was increased. There is a large number of veterans in the area due to its proximity to Offutt AFB. There are more than 50,000 veterans in the four counties that comprise the greater Omaha area. This population is also aging, making it vulnerable and in need of services that provide safe, affordable, and functional housing.

NRC: Were there any unanticipated benefits?

One unanticipated benefit was that individuals and organizations outside of Habitat Omaha have become aware of the Program and they have given the proceeds of their recycling revenue to us to supplement our budget. We’ve had a number of entities participate, but a big shout out to Storage Concepts of Omaha for their commitment to donate their scrap metal on behalf of the Veteran Community. This arrangement came to fruition at the end of 2018 and to-date in 2019, Storage Concepts has donated more than 3000 lbs. of metal scrap to our efforts.

NRC: What have you done to engage the veterans’ community?

Habitat Omaha Veteran Outreach/Repair engages with a number of vet organizations in the surrounding area to include American Legion, Veteran’s of Foreign War, Marine Corp League, Wounded Warrior, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Student Veterans of America, Team Rubicon. Team Red, White and Blue, the Veterans Administration and others.

NRC: What are your biggest concerns going forward?

Unfortunately, biggest concern is decreasing commodity prices where select recycling items have little value.

NRC: Will there be any changes to the program now that you have some experience with it? 

Since the recycling program is so new, we have had to tweak things as we learn more about managing our diverse waste stream. It is still not a finished product, so we foresee small changes ahead especially as we improve our employees sorting habits and improve procedural changes to increase the total amount of recyclables collected. And as always, we are looking for specialized volunteers to assist us with the program.

NRC: If you had the power to change anything in the overall system of materials management, what would you do?

Increase the monetary return for scrap.

NRC: Why did Habitat Omaha join NRC?

Habitat joined NRC under past leadership of our Re Stores to help us get the word out about Habitat’s retail store selling new and lightly used building materials. It has since sparked an expanded interest in the world of sustainability and recycling. We are energized to do more each and every time we visit with NRC members, or attend the annual awards luncheon. We now have a Green Team, have been awarded grant funding for a cardboard baler, and have this new veterans recycling program, all thanks in many ways to the information, energy, and leadership of the NRC.