Military charity to land new headquarters

To learn more: For more information about USA Cares or the Jobs for Vets program, log on to www.usacares.org.

The News Enterprise
September 1, 2010
By MARTY FINLEY

Radcliff-based military charity USA Cares' current home is nondescript for a national organization. The modest office building shows no signs of the work being done and the money being spent on a weekly basis on behalf of military families.

The centralized headquarters near Stithton Baptist Church off North Dixie Boulevard has served as the charity's base for years, but thanks to one Louisville-based entity, a new home is close to reality.

Associated Builders and Contractors of Kentuckiana have offered to build a new headquarters for USA Cares as soon as a site is found in the Hardin County area. The organization is a full-service merit shop construction trade organization consisting of more than 77 chapters nationally and representing roughly 25,000 merit shop construction and construction-related firms. More than 450 companies comprise the Kentuckiana chapter.

Billy Parson, president and CEO of the Kentuckiana chapter of ABC, said few within the local branch knew of USA Cares' work until representatives of the charity visited the ABC chapter to discuss its Jobs for Vets program, of which ABC is an active partner.

Parson said some within ABC are veterans and the mission of USA Cares resonated with them immediately.

Bill Nelson, executive director of USA Cares, said the need for a new headquarters was issued as a challenge to the members of the Kentuckiana ABC. While Nelson feared the request may be met with derision, he was instead flooded with optimism as members asked him when construction could start.

Similar projects have been attempted by ABC chapters in the past. For example, an Oklahoma chapter constructed a new headquarters for the Folds of Honor Foundation, a group that raises money and issues scholarships to the spouses and children of military members killed or injured in the line of duty. The new headquarters opened this year.

ABC also has participated in other veteran projects, such as the construction of houses for wounded veterans and a Shoeboxes for Soldiers campaign.

Parson said the initial programming of the project should unwind in the next 30 days, in which the two organizations can start working specifically on the details of the headquarters. As this process comes together and schematics of the headquarters are revealed, volunteers will want to participate, Parson predicted.

"It just starts steamrolling," he said.

Nelson said he envisions a 6,000- to-7,000-square-foot facility on two acres with good roadway access, though he said he would like to steer the new facility away from U.S. 31W. Now he's hoping a local landowner will be generous enough to donate the land.

A new facility would greatly benefit the organization, he added, by providing a strong capital asset while also removing monthly rent payments. The lack of rent would result in considerable savings that could be reinvested directly into the lives of military families in need, he said.

Local spokesman John Revell said a new headquarters also would remove the minor inconvenience of having the current headquarters on separate levels of the facility it rents, which would improve communications between staff.

Revell also said USA Cares will continue to cut costs at a new facility by being efficient in its day-to-day operations.

"We'll still be taking out our own trash to save money at the new place," he said.

Jobs for Vets. ABC's willingness to donate time and labor to the construction of a new facility is an outgrowth of a partnership with USA Cares' Jobs for Vets program, Nelson said.

The program was created as the demand for services continued to trend upward, placing more strain on the charity's resources. Nelson said more than a hundred requests pour in on a weekly basis and roughly $20,000 worth of aid is administered per week. More than half of the requests are for housing assistance.

While initial foreclosures were brought on by what Nelson describes as "funky mortgages," many soldiers are now clinging to their homes because they are returning from deployments only to find themselves without jobs, particularly among the National Guard and Army Reserve.

Wounded veterans also find themselves in limbo, he said, because many are not even 20 years of age and have few job skills.

The domino effect of these job casualties culminated in the program, which pairs veterans with employers who guarantee a job for the veteran as well as career training in job skills that can last the veteran for a lifetime, Nelson said. USA Cares stands as a facilitator and will provide tools or transportation for a veteran within the jobs program.

Nelson said ABC was one of the first organizations to come onboard, and more have followed.

"It's taken off like a bandito," he said.

Despite the high levels of unemployment, Nelson said a number of veterans have been benefited with long-range jobs and training since the program launched. For instance, an apprenticeship within ABC can last up to four years, Parson pointed out.

Parson said employers are looking to veterans because of the strong work ethic they bring to a civilian job, and he foresees more opportunities once the construction market fully rebounds.

"At some point, it's going to turn around and we're going to need that work force to come back," Parson said.

Nelson said USA Cares is not designed to shoulder mortgage payments long-term, so the jobs program serves as a resource to help expedite a soldier's financial recovery.

"A good job can solve those problems," Nelson said.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762.

This story, written by Marty Finley, was provided to One Knox courtesy of The News Enterprise. Read more stories from The News Enterprise at www.thenewsenterprise.com.