After serving their country in the armed forces, veterans are often a tremendous resource of volunteerism within their home communities.
Tahlequah Area Habitat for Humanity is giving back to area veterans through a new pilot project, the Veterans Initiative Repair Corps.
Tahlequah is one of 40 Habitat for Humanity organizations chosen nationwide for participation, and one of two in the state. The other is Oklahoma City.
“Last year, Tahlequah Habitat was chosen for the pilot program because, over the years, we’ve done a lot of repairs in the community,” said Tahlequah Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Linda Cheatham. “They wanted us to represent rural America.”
The Home Depot Foundation chose the local organization.
“We don’t even have a Home Depot; I was shocked, surprised and stunned when our small affiliate was chosen instead of the larger cities,” Cheatham said.
The organization completed four veterans’ home repairs last year, including installing air conditioning in two homes that didn’t have any. Volunteers also upgraded a 20-year-old air conditioning system and rewired a home.
“Insurance was high, because the wiring needed to be upgraded,” Cheatham said.
Home Depot supplies the funding, then the homeowner is given a 10-year, interest-free note to repay. Through the Habitat for Humanity Repair Corps, Home Depot Foundation is making a three-year, $30 million commitment to veterans.
“Veterans have to meet the income guidelines,” Cheatham said. “For example, the maximum yearly income for a family of four is $39,000.”
The residence must be in Cherokee County, and the homeowner must be a veteran, or have a veteran living in the home, who has proof of homeowners’ insurance during the repairs. The vet must also have an honorable, general or medical discharge verifiable by DD214.
Monday night was the first of three workshops for veterans to come in and check on guidelines to see if they qualify. The next workshops will be Tuesday, Sept. 4, at 6 p.m., and Saturday, Sept. 8, at 1 p.m., at the Habitat for Humanity office, 816 S. College Ave.
“We will take applications and all will be considered,” Cheatham said. “All repairs will be completed by June of next year.”
Some of the committee members will be at the next two workshops, including Bronwyn Duncan, advertising executive with the Tahlequah Daily Press; Charlotte Jackson, with Cherokee Nation Housing; Nan Jones, affiliate treasurer and employee of a local bank; Jim Savage, commander of the American Legion Post 135; and Jerry Catron, who will complete an assessment on each house to determine the specific scope of work required for grant funding.
“Arlan Hanson, board president of Habitat, wanted a close-up look at what’s involved to select a family for one of our projects,” Cheatham said. “I wanted a diverse committee that has experience with veterans. This committee will also select our homeowner for next year.”
The veterans’ program focuses on critical home repairs, extensive work to alleviate critical health, life and safety issues or code violations, on the interior or exterior, such as a change to or repair of materials or components; a reconfiguration of space, or a modification for accessibility; and installation or extension of plumbing, mechanical or electrical systems on existing structures.
“Licensed contractors are used for technical work, such an electrical wiring,” Cheatham said.
A volunteer for 22 years and executive director for four, Cheatham was on the founding board in 1990 and helped write the articles of incorporation with founder George Fulk, who still works on every house built or repaired.
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