Serving those who served
Gretchen Kim, a matrimonial lawyer in Yonkers, donned a hardhat on Veterans Day and joined a crew of 15 volunteers from the Westchester County Bar Association dressed not for court but for an eight-hour day of manual labor. Kim’s husband and two sons donned hardhats too and added their manpower to a roughly 60-member crew of skilled construction workers and professionals from law firms and Goldman Sachs installing new windows and newly painted and measured siding on a home on High Street in Yonkers on which a bank had foreclosed.
The two-story, three-bedroom home and two more foreclosed homes beside it were purchased by Habitat for Humanity of Westchester to be repaired and eventually deeded over to military veterans. The volunteers were part of what Jim Killoran, Habitat’s executive director, called “a veterans blitz build-a-thon” this month.
The build-a-thon a few days earlier brought 35 volunteers from ING U.S., the retirement plan and insurance industry giant, to work at the same hilltop site that overlooks the razed and partly redeveloped site of the former Mulford Gardens public housing complex and affords a panoramic view of Yonkers, the Hudson River and Palisades and the George Washington Bridge in the distance.
A Habitat for Humanity Westchester volunteer rebuilding a foreclosed home in Yonkers for ownership by military veterans.
“I’ve always wanted to do it,’’ Kim said of the volunteer effort that had her working on a siding crew with her sons, who had the day off from their public schools in Yonkers. “It was on the bucket list. We live in Yonkers. This was a nice way to help the community that we live in.”
A stalwart partner of Habitat’s Westchester chapter, Murphy Brothers Contracting Inc. in Mamaroneck, was paying 20 of its workers for their day at the High Street house. One of the contractor’s regular suppliers, Interstate+Lakeland Lumber in Greenwich, Conn., had contributed 20 high-quality windows manufactured by Andersen Windows and Doors.
Andersen had deployed eight employees for the Veterans Day blitz, led by sales director Steve Nash from its corporate headquarters in Minnesota. They pitched an Andersen lunch tent in the dusty backyard where workers were served grilled hot dogs and hamburgers.
Chris Murphy, president and construction director at Murphy Brothers, had set the windows brigade in motion with a phone call to Sheldon Kahan, president of Interstate+Lakeland Lumber.
“Chris called about getting windows on this project,” Kahan said. “I said, I’m in. I called Andersen here.”
Kahan had met Killoran in the Rockaways in Queens during the recovery and rebuilding effort after Hurricane Sandy. This Yonkers initiative is the first major project on which his company has worked with Habitat. Kahan said his company will install donated windows on all three homes on High Street.
“Jim is a very persuasive guy,” the Greenwich business owner said. “I’m sure we’re going to be helping out Jim on some other projects. I’m sure Jim will come knocking on my door.”
Killoran said the 20 Andersen windows and freely supplied labor amounted to a $25,000 donation. “I call it house-raising instead of fundraising.”
“I call this the top of Battle Hill,” said Killoran, repeating his lunchtime rallying words to the assembled volunteers, “the battle for veterans, the battle to take it back.”
“We send people overseas and they come back to what? They need to come back to houses and jobs.”
Reclaiming foreclosed properties from Yonkers and Mount Vernon at the southern end of the county to Peekskill at the northern end, Killoran aims to have Habitat volunteers build and repair 50 homes for veterans over the next five years. The homeowners will have an interest-free mortgage and no down payment. At Habitat for Humanity Westchester, “We’re the bank,” said Killoran.
The High Street home’s future owner and occupant, Michael Roushion, also had donned a hardhat for the day. A California native, Roushion met his wife Nicole while both served in the Marine Corps. They moved to Yonkers, where Nicole was raised, about 2 1/2 years ago.
Roushion did two combat tours in Iraq during his eight years of service. He and his wife were stationed in different areas of the country during their tours. After his discharge in 2008, Roushion said he found that, like other returning veterans, he would have to take entry-level jobs with lower pay than what he earned before joining the Marine Corps.
“I think the hardest adjustment is everything that you see over there, and then coming back and being normal,” he said.
Family networking of a kind led the ex-Marines to this home ownership opportunity on High Street. Nicole Roushion’s brother, William Semedo, organized and directs
Habitat for Humanity’s Fire Marching Band, a 55-member parade marching corps that includes youths aged 5 to 21 in Yonkers. Killoran, who said Habitat has raised $35,000 for the youth marching band it sponsors, asked his band director if he knew any veterans in Yonkers for the home ownership program.
“It’s basically building from the bottom up,” Roushion said of the volunteer project that will give the couple a fully renovated home.
They expect to move in by next February or March. For two of the county’s combat-tested veterans, it will be a significant move toward “being normal.”
About The Author
The Business Journal’s senior writer, John Golden directs news coverage of the county and Hudson Valley region as Westchester bureau chief. He was an award-winning upstate columnist and feature writer before joining the Business Journal in 2007. He is the author of “Northern Drift: Sketches on the New York Frontier,” a collection of his regional journalism.