It’s no secret that people tend to get sick more in winter — or that cold, drafty living spaces don’t support optimum health. And it’s hard to take proper care of yourself if you don’t have enough money to pay the bills. An innovative program is addressing all those issues while giving some local veterans a break.
Earlier this month, roughly 20 volunteers spent a couple of days weatherizing the Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry's Veterans Restoration Quarters in east Asheville. The facility houses about 148 veterans who are trying to get back on their feet after living on the streets. An additional 30 or so rooms provide emergency shelter as needed.
James Parris, a resident for about six months, says that while he’s grateful for the housing, his room was drafty, and the unusually cold weather earlier this winter didn’t help.
"You could feel air coming in up top and especially under the door," he reports, pointing to areas now freshly caulked and sealed. "What they're doing here is great — it's not going to be drafty anymore. The two gentlemen did a great job; it's so helpful."
The gentlemen in question are part of ABCCM's Green Jobs program, which partners with Green Opportunities and other local organizations to help underprivileged Ashevilleans find work providing various environmental services. Funded by a federal Pathways Out of Poverty grant, the program aims to help 340 workers from high-poverty city neighborhoods find jobs in such growing fields as weatherization, solar-thermal installation and biofuels.
Besides saving energy, the Restoration Quarters project helped participants hone their skills via hands-on experience, explains Susan Garrett, director of the Green Jobs program. "These folks are working hard: They're showing up on a freezing-cold day to volunteer their time. They want jobs; they're ready to work hard for an employer."
Part of the process of finding trainees jobs involves reaching out directly to local contractors such as Conservation Pros, Home Energy Partners and Deltec Homes, touting the skills of program graduates. But in this tough economy, says Garrett, "Employers are just looking for a reason to shuffle someone's resumé off the pile." And many Green Jobs participants have an extra strike against them in the form of a criminal record.
"For some of these folks, the things that happened were five and seven years ago, but it doesn't matter," notes Garrett. Accordingly, the program also tries to help participants overcome that hurdle. "We're here to explain how they can talk about that in an interview, how to show the employer what they've done to improve themselves — how they've learned from that experience; what they bring to the table."
The program's full-circle approach also tries to educate homeowners on the economic benefits of green retrofits.
"We help give the private contractors business by promoting the benefits of weatherization through the churches of ABCCM," Garrett reveals. "And then we send them the business, and they hire our graduates to do the work. So it's a whole-systems approach to green-collar job creation."
Meanwhile, back at the Restoration Quarters, the trainees hope the program will help them find fulfilling careers.
"I think it's an upcoming field. A lot of people are trying to go green, save energy and money," said Cordaro Mills, taking a break from installing weather stripping. "It's been hard for me to find a job. … I'm hoping for a career; I like helping people."
Co-worker Charles Barber moved to Asheville’s Livingston Street neighborhood from Charlotte about six months ago. He sees the program as a ticket to a better life. "I came to Asheville because I wanted a change for myself," he explained. "I'm trying to change and grow; I'm trying to be a man."
And like Mills, Barber finds the philanthropic aspect of environmental work particularly fulfilling.
"It feels good to do this work," he said. "My favorite thing about the environmental field is that it betters the community."
That belief was confirmed when Parris came out of his room to thank the two young men for making his room more comfortable.
"I like helping the veterans," Mills exclaimed with a smile. "They can already feel the difference. It feels good. … I like seeing the difference I've made."
You could call that wellness writ large.
— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at email@example.com.
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