The rain was falling steadily Tuesday morning as 18 volunteers worked quickly on three houses: They trimmed overgrown bushes, cut grass, installed energy-efficient devices like lights and shower heads, and lined the attic with insulation.
The houses are owned by Veterans Inc., an organization designed to help shelter local homeless or nearly homeless veterans while they get back on their feet. Currently 24 veterans live in the 26 available spots.
Veterans Inc. executive director William ‘Smitty’ Smith couldn’t thank the volunteers enough.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Smith said. “It’s outstanding that so many great people have reached out to help our organization like this.”
Smith said his organization doesn’t receive federal, state or regular local funding. They rely primarily on donations, volunteers and occasional city grants to keep running. Smith was happy his houses were chosen to be weatherized, primarily because it will help save his residents’ electric bills.
Volunteers came out from both Dominion Virginia Power and STOP (Supporting Transformational Opportunities for People) Inc., which helps people in need in the Hampton Roads area. Ken Barker, the vice president of community partnerships for Dominion, said the event was one of many happening in Virginia as a part of Dominion’s newly expanded EnergyShare program. In September, the company pledged $57 million over the next five years to low-income families, people with disabilities, the elderly and veterans.
“It’s just a great way for Dominion to pay respect to these folks and use one of our programs to do it,” Barker said.
His volunteers worked inside and outside to make the veterans’ transitional housing more energy-efficient. Some climbed up to the attic to measure how much insulation they would put in to help keep the homes warm in the winter. Others swapped out lightbulbs with new LED ones and changed shower heads with others that conserved water.
Barker estimated the improvements will help each house become 10 percent to 15 percent more energy efficient.
STOP Inc.’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families also brought volunteers. Their primary focus is helping veterans and their families find permanent housing and providing financial resources and referrals to other service organizations, according to Charnitta Waters, the organization’s vice president of homeless intervention and support. She said her group often refers veterans to the transitional homes that were being upgraded Tuesday, or helps them find permanent housing when they’re ready to move out.
Mayor Will Sessoms stopped by the event to thank Dominion and its volunteers for their work.
“You give so much to the community,” he said. “All business should try and be like that.”
Barker, a former Virginia Beach resident and Cox High School graduate, said this project was particularly special coming the day before Veterans Day.
“Our number one goal is to help vulnerable customers,” Barker said. “There’s a lot of folks that need a helping hand. The best part of this is that it gets at the root cause — saving these people money long-term.”