Last Updated on April 27, 2022 by Luke Feldbrugge
Veterans Community Project is a five-city non-profit that is “determined to make a difference in the lives of homeless Veterans.” The Homes for Heroes Foundation presented a $10,000 grant to the organization to its Sioux Falls branch to help it fulfill its mission. This Homes for Heroes Foundation grant is part of the Homes for Heroes’ Circle of Giving, providing assistance for heroes in dire need across the country.
Homes for Heroes Outreach Coordinator, Jay Flynn, talks to Sara, Vincent and Shawna, to present them with a $10,000 Foundation Check.
You can watch the full interview here or read the transcript of the interview below.
Jay: Hello and thanks to everyone for joining us today. I’m Jay Flynn, Homes for Heroes hero outreach coordinator. I’m joined today by some very special guests: Sara Loar, Vincent Morales and Shauna Kleinwolterink. Sarah let’s start with you. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Sarah: Absolutely. Thank you for having us today, and I just want to thank you all for everything that you’ve done at Homes for Heroes. We’ve actually been the recipient of some grant funding through you all at some of our other locations, so this is just a real honor. We are so grateful for everything that you guys have done.
My name is Sarah Loar, and I am the vice president of national development at Veterans Community Project. I’ve been with the organization pretty much from the beginning. I started out as our one-and-only fundraiser, and we’ve grown a lot since then. I’ve transitioned over to our national expansion team and have been in this role for about a year and a half now.
Jay: That’s great. Vincent, how about you? Tell us what we need to know.
Vincent: There’s a lot to know, and there’s not enough time. I’ll give you the ten-thousand-foot view first. Thank you Jay and thank you Homes for Heroes for this opportunity to continue our programming. Just a little bit about myself. I am an army veteran, 13 years. I was a 12 bravo combat engineer. I got out after some time and was medically retired, so I just kind of called it a day. Since then I started working with veterans in different capacities, primarily in the homeless field. I am one of the co-founders of the organization. The way this all came about was just veterans taking care of our veterans. We said if we could do it, the best way to serve our brothers and sisters, what would that look like?
We changed a lot of different things, and going into our fifth year of operation, we are expanding nationally. My wheelhouse originally has been working with our homeless veterans on the street in the case management role. Now as the village program director, I work directly on the national expansion team. We work hand-in-hand to help veterans who are struggling with housing instability across the nation.
Jay: That’s great. Alright Shawna, it’s your turn now.
Shawna: Awesome and thank you. Thank you so much for putting this together and having me on here today. My name is Shawna Kleinwolterlink and I’m with Plains Commerce Bank here in Sioux Falls. I have been part of the Homes for Heroes program since 2014. My history with veterans is that I’ve been doing lots of loans for veterans. I have friends that are veterans. I have a step-dad that was in the Vietnam war. He talks about it often and what they have done for this country and what they do for us every single day. It just really captured my heart. Then being part of the Homes for Heroes program– I think I’ve saved $399,000 for heroes in the last few years. Giving back has just been huge.
I learned about the Veterans Community Project when Jeanine Hoff Lubben approached me. I think she’s on your committee as well. She just shared the program and the success that you guys have had in the Kansas City market. I thought it was wonderful and a great thing to bring to Sioux Falls. I went to your guys’ event at the Icon and learned so much more information about it. I really felt like this was going to be so amazing. I wanted to back it. I wanted to be on the committee, so I went right back to the office and I said we must try to get some funds for these guys. I thought ‘let’s ask Home for Heroes. Let’s see if we can get a grant that way?’
I’m very happy to be part of this. Plains Commerce Bank supports us here with this as well. We want to give back and this is a start for us. We’re proud to be part of Homes for Heroes and also the Veterans Community Project.
Jay: Awesome. As you know Homes for Heroes Circle of Giving is all about giving back to our heroes in need, so the Homes for Heroes Foundation provides grants to nonprofits whose missions are to help heroes in dire need. I’m happy to share that the Veterans Community Project Sioux Falls is a Homes for Heroes Foundation, January 2022 grant recipient.
Sarah, Vincent and Shawna, the Homes for Heroes Foundation is so honored to present you guys with this $10,000 check to support the Sioux Falls location with Veterans Community Projects. Congratulations.
Vincent: That’s amazing. That’s very impactful. I appreciate that.
Jay: So according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, on any given night, there’re 131 000 veterans who are homeless in the United States. Obviously you’re working to help solve this serious problem. Shawna you talked a little bit about what led you to nominate the Veterans Community Project for the grant. Anything else you would like to add?
Shawna: I love learning more about the program and how successful it’s been for you guys in Kansas City. It’s just amazing. I was at the race you guys had, which was really educational. I think there’s going to be support here too. I’m really excited to be part of this program in any way either in funding or volunteering. It’s just great what they’re doing for these veterans, who do so much for us.
Jay: Absolutely. Vincent, as a co-founder of Veterans Community Project, tell us about what the mission is and how we’re working to support the nation’s veterans through the Veterans Community Project.
Vincent: Well the mission of the Veterans Community Project is simple. It’s to end veteran homelessness. But there’s so much more that goes behind that. Some of our pillars of service are to connect the community to the veteran and to connect the veteran to the community. It’s a twofold operation. We also try to never turn a veteran away. We will figure out how to say yes. You quoted the number of 131,000 veterans being homeless in a given evening. One thing that VCP has acknowledged from the onset is that those are VA eligible veterans. Our definition of a veteran is anybody that raised their right hand, anybody that took the oath of enlistment. Even if they do not have access to the VA healthcare systems or benefit system, for whatever reason, that doesn’t matter to us. We take the individuals, who wouldn’t fit the classical definition of veteran, and find out where they’re at in their journey. We help them progress. If there is availability to receive VA benefits and VA healthcare, we work toward that. With great partners such as Homes for Heroes, it allows us to work with individuals that the VA would not traditionally be able to serve. If it weren’t for support from Homes for Heroes and other partner agencies, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish our mission.
Jay: You guys are able to serve folks who may not be being served any other way, correct?
Vincent: Correct. One example is a national guard or a reservist soldier–an individual who can do 20 years in the national guard and never be federally activated. They would not actually see benefits until the retirement age of 60 or 65. So in that gap, what happens if they fall on tough times? They’re not going to be working with the VA. I can tell you that we have housed individuals who are on a reserve or national guard status. We’ve worked with them and truly it’s not just about housing. It’s also about being proactive instead of reactive and resolving those issues before they go down that road–before that individual is contemplating suicide or having housing instability or having financial issues or truly breaking the foundation of their family or their network of support.
We give them the tools so they don’t go down that road. That’s a big part of what we do. Of course the tiny homes are amazing. It’s an amazing project. It’s life-changing. That’s where we can really focus all of our energy as a collective team. What the Veterans Community Project does within the community is a little bit larger in that aspect.
Jay: So Sara, Vincent with everything that’s going on in our nation today, with Covid 19 and everything else that we see going on in the nation, have you guys seen an increase in need because of the pandemic?
Vincent: Yes we have. We adjusted fire–using some military terms here– when the pandemic came. We have a program that is called emergency assistance where we help an individual in non-traditional services. Let’s say you know your transmission went out and you came to us. That transmission is $500 and no other agency will work with you. We then would take care of that. That’s proactive. It keeps you in the workforce.
With Covid hitting we had to adjust. We actually went to an online inquiry form and started taking veterans on the program via the online program. I can tell you we had about a 30% increase. That was obviously because of restrictions for workers. I’m not sure if we’re normalizing anywhere within the Covid curve because that’s beyond my pay grade. Since we’ve been able to move some things back online, those numbers have leveled out at about a 20% increase. So we’re really proud of that, the ability to serve individuals in non-traditional ways.
Jay: Right, that’s really awesome. Trying to prevent issues from becoming a homeless issue.
So Sara, obviously the grant is important to the Veterans Community Project. Give me a little bit more about how the Homes for Heroes grant is going to be used.
Sarah: Absolutely. This is a really exciting time in Sioux Falls in terms of the Veterans Community Project–specifically this year. Vincent mentioned a little bit about the tiny house communities that we build, which we are building in Sioux Falls. That’s scheduled to begin construction this year. We will have 25 tiny homes and a village center that will house all of the support services that we will provide the residents. We have had a lot of early success in terms of support in Sioux Falls. The community has just really rallied around bringing VCP to their community. Actually part of how we got connected here was through our leadership team –just community members that want to help bring this to life. We are in that building construction phase, which takes money. It takes money to build a village, and so we’ve been actively fundraising in the community. This grant will go directly toward helping to bring the VCP village in Sioux Falls to life.
Of course once we get the village built, we will begin providing services to veterans in the community. The money is going toward a very tangible thing. This grant will go towards something extremely tangible. You will actually see a village being built over the course of this year. I think that’s really exciting.
Jay: Awesome, that is completely awesome. It takes money. I heard that loud and clear. Sarah, why don’t you tell our audience if they want to get involved in supporting the Veterans Community Project mission where they can go to do that?
Sarah: The best place to learn more about us is going to the Veterans Community Project website.
We have a tab that is specifically for Sioux Falls, or you can get information about Veterans Community Project as a whole. Additionally, if you’re on social media, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. On Facebook specifically we push out a lot of content, a lot of great stories about what’s happening in our communities with our veterans. We do a lot of updating on our expansion, our expansion cities, on our website. That’s where you can go to donate. There’s going to be a lot of exciting stuff happening in the Sioux Falls area in terms of volunteering, so keep an eye out for more information to come. We’d love to get you all involved and actually building this village.
Jay: That’s great, that’s awesome, and I know we’re looking at other places. We were talking offline a little bit about that when you were in my home state (Virginia), looking at some areas. That’s such a wonderful mission that the Veterans Community Project is doing. It’s so inspiring, and I’m sure it is making such a huge impact on the homeless veteran issue. We really do appreciate that. I’m sure that the veterans you’re helping are so thankful for the assistance that they’re getting as well.
Sarah, Vincent, Shawna, thank you for joining us today. Thank you for everything that you’re doing to help support our veterans. And to our audience, we thank you for tuning in. An easy way to show your support for this video is to give us a like or leave us a comment. Make sure you tune into future episodes to learn more about the non-profits that we’re partnering with to help our heroes in dire need. Thanks everyone for joining us today and we’ll see you next time.
Homes for Heroes Foundation
Grants from the Homes for Heroes Foundation are made possible by the Homes for Heroes Circle of Giving and its network of real estate professionals who are committed to providing savings on home and mortgage buy, sell and refinance transactions for firefighters, EMS, law enforcement, military (active, reserves and veterans), healthcare professionals and teachers.
Please take a moment to learn more about the Homes for Heroes Foundation and the grants it provides nonprofit organizations who help heroes in need, or simply to make a donation.