Unique Construction Program Gives Long Island Veterans The Skills To Build A New Career

HUNTINGTON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — It’s “Home Sweet Home” for a group of Long Island veterans who graduated from a one-of-its-kind program on Monday.

They’ve completed VetsBuild, which taught them valuable construction skills which can lead to a brand new career.

Many of the veterans have at times been homeless and helpless, but no longer. They’re now equipped with necessary job skills after some of them hit rock bottom.

“They came to us in crisis,” Jim Smith from United Veterans Beacon House told CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff. “Sometimes in substance abuse, mental illness.”

It’s a problem the United Way of Long Island has turned into a solution. They’re training veterans to build high performance homes of the future, an in-demand sector of construction.

“It’s really energizing the work force, it’s really exposing veterans to what is the next best thing,” Rick Wertheim from the United Way of Long Island said. “Healthy, more durable, more sustainable, they just live better the homes we produce with our vets.”

Fewer than one percent of the builders in the country create homes to these specifications. They’re called Zero Energy-Ready Homes, and they produce more energy than they use.

Vets learned skills by helping to build a house in Huntington that’s packed with with sustainable features; wood flooring and non-toxic paint enhances air quality, low energy lighting senses occupancy, and the roof angle is optimal for solar panels.

“It’s filtered so you feel better, you breathe better, the house works better,” Wertheim said.

The veterans’ training serves double duty — the home they trained in will house previously homeless vets.

Graduates like Jerome Robinson, who served his country and could only find work as a janitor.

“This is now a chance for a career instead of just a job now,” Robinson said.

VetsBuild grad Jaime Galan said he was actually unemployed, but feels confident he can get employed with help from the program.

More than 150 Long Island veterans now have the unique construction skills. The United Way is hoping to make it a model in the nation, to rebuild homes and in the process, rebuild veterans.

At any point, there are around 400 homeless veterans on Long Island — 75 of whom have already gone through the VetsBuild program.

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