On the inaugural National Day of Service, a group of Ohioans collected toothbrushes for homeless veterans. Next month, they'll open a house for them.
I learned about the inaugural National Day of Service four years ago through a thrilled, nostalgic voicemail about a month after Election Day. The speaker was Mary Ann Crawford, whose house became 'Get Out the Vote' headquarters in my Northeast Ohio hometown. Her message: Come over on Saturday. It’s time to reengage.
Suddenly I was back in Mary Ann’s living room, eating the same chili she cooked in November and swapping memories with campaign volunteers. We were students, grandparents, white- and blue-collar workers, but we shared a definition of citizenship and a vision for our city. Like the president-elect, we could stop campaigning and start governing.
Our work started as a simple donation drive for Freedom House, a transitional facility for homeless veterans in a neighboring county. We collected soap, toothpaste, and toilet paper for a week before Inauguration Day. When we finished, we were so invested in the program that we started talking about building our own.
Freedom House’s program director, a young, eloquent guy named Matt Slater, suggested our first steps for building a similar house. By the end of February, we met with Akron’s mayor. The city donated a site in March. By July, we had a business plan, grant applications, a website and an Executive Committee.
The project we named Valor Home needed more than a million dollars, though, and our first grant application to the Department of Veterans Affairs was rejected. I moved out of Akron and lost touch. That group from Mary Ann’s living room didn’t quit, though: they spent the next year at grant-writing workshops, poker runs, churches and VFW posts. By October 2010, less than two years after Election Day, the grant’s approval was finalized.
Two years after our first Day of Service, Valor Home’s timeline describes a thrilling, organized task list, still staffed by attendees from Mary Ann’s 2008 meeting: LaShawn's spreadsheet for Donations, Adopt-a-Room and In-Kind tracking are complete. MaryAnn and Stephanie will track thank yous, pavers and plaques. Rhonda will maintain a projects management spreadsheet. Betsy is setting up the fundraising web site. Matt and Bob are working on lists for potential organizations and civic groups to solicit for donations. Begin plans for reverse raffle and euchre tournament. Sign up for Point-In-Time count and Homeless Connect will be May 10th. Matt is working on a VA Grant for supportive services for Veterans families and more case management help.
Money rolled in throughout 2011 from affordable housing loans, individuals, and donated services like tree removal and construction management. We—I keep calling the group “we,” even the people I’ve never met, because every hour invested in Valor Home’s vision is valuable—broke ground in June 2011. Habitat for Humanity sponsored volunteer “build days” for the next year.
Here’s Valor Home’s Facebook status from yesterday’s Day of Service:
FIELD DAY! Monday, January 21, 2013 from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m. we will have a general clean up of the Valor Home. This coincides with the MLK, Jr. Holiday - 4 p.m. is when the construction types leave and we begin! Dress appropriately. The place is heated, but cool. Bring cleaning supplies (buckets, mops, brooms, rags, Spic-n-Span, etc.) and GLOVES! See you there!
The living-room inkling that was Valor Home will be totally realized early next month. We set out to collect toilet paper; instead we collected hundreds of thousands of dollars. In 2008, we knocked on doors; in 2012, we installed them. Pent-up campaign energy became effective, transformative work.
If yesterday’s Day of Service touched you, reach out to people who share your passion. Invite them into your living room. Talk about solutions like it’s October in Ohio in an election year. Call experts, find partners, collect donations, and start building. It’s your neighborhood. Govern it.
Original Image courtesy of Valor Home