Back in the late 1980’s, Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobs was working at Lifescapes International Inc., a landscape design firm started by her father in Newport Beach, Calif. Jacobs was serving on the board of directors of the Orange County chapter of Building Industry Association at the time and was wrestling with the intricacies of accepting charitable donations and making thoughtful decisions about what to do with the money.
“We would get a lot of money from major builders, consultants, and vendors. And we would get requests from a variety of non-profits. The concern I had was that we were not harnessing the skill sets of our membership,” she says.
During a strategy session with other board members, the group identified the problem and came up with a solution. “We know how to build houses, but who should we be helping?” she recalls. “We decided to partner with people who already have programs in place that are helping victims of crime, unwed mothers, and at-risk youth. Maybe they need their shelters renovated or maybe they need whole new facilities.”
Thus the idea for HomeAid, which is now in its 30th year, was hatched. Jacobs and the rest of the team decided they needed some seed money in order to form and staff the nonprofit organization that would match contributions of labor, materials, and money with providing shelter for those who need it most.
To get things up and running Jacobs talked to Fred Reiser, a friend who owned the Crazy Horse Saloon, a nearby country and western flavored night club in Newport Beach. The Crazy Horse was a small but prestigious venue where Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Garth Brooks, and Tammy Wynette had all played shows. Jacobs asked Reiser about the possibility of staging a Sunday afternoon fundraising concert with a performer who was already in town for the weekend. She knew the request was a long shot.
“One day Fred called me back and said, ‘how about Kris Kristofferson? He’s waiving his fee but you’ll have to pay the band $5,000’” says Jacobs. The deal was struck as Jacobs and the rest of the team sold out the 250 seat venue in ninety minutes and made $40,000, which brought HomeAid to life in 1989.
The shelters built or funded by HomeAid come in many forms. “It covers an incredible gamut from doing an expansion or renovation of a house, to building a 20-bed AIDS hospice,” says Larry Webb, CEO of The New Home Company based in Aliso Viejo, Calif. Webb is one of the original board members of HomeAid. “Homebuilders get to leverage their influence and really make a difference in the community and help great organizations that need help. It’s been a joy of my life being part of HomeAid,” he says.
Rather than a straight hand-out, community centers, homes, and buildings get built, renovated or repaired for a fraction of what it would cost in the marketplace. Webb’s firm holds a yearly golf tournament that has raised more than $300,000 for the cause. What started as one small organization has now gone nationwide with 19 chapters in Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Texas, Colorado, Georgia, Virginia, D.C, and Minnesota. “We’ve built over $250 million worth of housing for the homeless and we’ve helped nearly 350,000 people who had been without a home,” says Peter Simons, who has been serving as the executive director of HomeAid since 2013.
Simons cites the incredible progress of the organization while also noting at the same time how the housing affordability issue is moving the goal posts. “Affordability has become a major driver of homelessness. The bottom rung has just been moved up ten feet,” he says. “Even if you have a job, if you live in the wrong area you can’t even afford to pay rent. There’s a tide against us. But we are making a big impact, and it’s clear the problem can be solved.”
Everybody involved with the organization has their own reason for signing up and contributing. For Larry Webb, it was meeting some of the people helped by the organization. “I was introduced to a group of women from a nonprofit called Interval House that provides housing and support for women and children who have been in an abusive situation. I met with these women for three minutes and I have been on their board ever since. They were heroic in the kind of things they were doing and I jumped in with both feet.”
For Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobs there was a more personal connection. “At one point in my life, I was a single mother with a two year old, and if I didn’t have such a great family, I could have been in one of these shelters. I was struggling then. We’re committed to making the world a better place now.”
Joe Tavarez is the president at First American Title’s Homebuilder Services Division and a HomeAid America board member. “For 30 years, HomeAid America has represented the best of the building and real estate community and it deserves recognition for helping change the lives of so many,” he says. “Addressing homelessness remains a critical issue across the country, so it’s exciting to mark HomeAid’s 30-year milestone.”
Peter Simons and everybody else involved with the program take pride in the fact that HomeAid grew out of the home building business and takes advantages for all the skill sets of its contributors. “Because this is a building industry charity, it’s a cultural thing we can hang onto,” he says. “The anniversary is a big deal for us because we survived 30 years. We’re mainly supported by the building industry, and half the builders went out of business ten years ago. It shows that it’s a model and mission that works – it also proves that builders do care.”