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Coffee Conversations - Racing for a Cause With Homes For Our Troops - PODCAST TRANSCRIPTION

May 20, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.

Editor's note: The following is the transcript of a live interview with Tom Landwermeyer. You can read the interview below or listen to the podcast.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: Good morning. Welcome to Coffee Conversations from Roofers Coffee Shop. My name is Heidi Ellsworth and this is a very special Coffee Conversations. I know I say that a lot because they really kind of all are, but this one is just dear to your heart. You're going to be ready for some chills and I'm maybe even a little teary up because this is just a very special celebrating our veterans. So, today we are going to be talking with Brigadier General USA retired Tom Landwermeyer, who is a returning guest to Coffee Conversations. And we're going to be talking about homes for our troops and how ABC is raising money for this great cause. So General, welcome back to the show.

Tom Landwermeyer: Thanks Heidi. It's really great to be with you. I can't believe it's been a year since we were together on this last, and again, thanks for the opportunity. And I'd always be remiss if I don't think thank ABC Supply for the support they provide us. And this is just another one of those things.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: No, I tell you what, we are very thankful for ABC Supply for one, sponsoring this Coffee Conversation, but also for helping to bring homes for our troops really to the forefront of the roofing industry. Like you said, they are doing amazing things, and everyone, you're going to learn a lot about what's happening along Home with Our Troops, but also along with the Indie 500 race that's coming up this weekend. So, exciting stuff. First, General, I would love for you to introduce yourself and tell everybody just a little bit about you and Home For Our Troops.

Tom Landwermeyer: Okay, thanks Heidi. So, I'm Tom Landwermeyer, the president and CEO of Homes For Our Troops. A little bit about myself as there on the screen, but more briefly was born and raised in Dallas and then went to West Point for college. Graduated there in '76, headed out as an armor officer, so working with tanks and that kind of thing. And about five years into my career, went to flight school down at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Became a helicopter pilot and went through a full 33-year army career stationed everywhere from Korea, Japan, Hawaii, across the U.S. into Europe, Germany, Bosnia, down into Saudi, Kuwait, and Iraq as well. So, a lot of places over a lot of time. One of the best things about the Army career for me was when I was going through flight school, met my future wife down there, we got married shortly thereafter.

I've had four great kids. They're all functioning members of society out there right now, which is always a plus for parents. When I retired, I wanted to get into the nonprofit sector and it took me a couple years to land, and we can talk a little bit about that with veteran experience and why you ought to be after some veterans later. But once I did, I was with the Armed Services YMCA for about five years as the COO, and then had the opportunity to compete for this position with Homes For Our Troops. Went to the videos that are on the website, couldn't believe the impact this organization was having on our severely injured veterans. My wife even told me, "You're just crazy if you don't try and compete for that position." So I did, had some interviews with the board directors, and in January 2017 started down this road.

It's a national nonprofit. We build specially adapted custom homes across the country, and then we donate them to the most severely injured post 9/11 veterans to enable them to rebuild their lives. Was on here last year, and just as a update we're now up to 355 especially adapted homes donated across the country. Since last year, we've actually gone to 45 states that we built in now, we added three in the past year. We added Alaska, Maine, and Nebraska. And over the next probably two years, we'll be adding New Mexico and Wyoming to the crowd as well. So, within a couple years we will have built in 47 states. The homes themselves, they're about a 2,800 square foot, four bedroom, two bath home. They have more than 40 special adaptations designed into each one of them designed specifically to restore the freedom and independence that these veterans sacrificed for us down range. And it allows them to do some great things as we go forward. But that's just a short introduction. Heidi, and we'll let you go from there.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: No, that is wonderful. So first of all, thank you so much for your service. I want to say that, and for all the veterans who are on this Coffee Conversations today, thank you for your service. It means the world, and the fact of what you're doing now to help veterans who have been hurt and disabled, to really bring that together is just amazing. And I do want to remind everyone the chat is open, so please feel free to ask questions, to put your comments in there. Please introduce yourself. Tell us if you are a veteran. We love the chat to go back and forth. Also, just in case you're thinking, "Oh man, I want to share this," this is being recorded and it will be sent out to everyone, or it will be on demand within the next 24 hours. Okay, yes. Let's get going.

I know you just went through that a little bit, but I really would love for you to talk a little bit about the overall organization of Homes for our Troops, and just to give us a little bit more of a feel for exactly what you're doing. We have some pictures up here that we're going to show of the homes that you're designing. So General, if you could share some of that.

Tom Landwermeyer: Sure. So, I've got a group of individuals here, about 65 of us located in Taunton, Massachusetts, just about 35 miles south of Boston. We've been around since 2004, already gave you the numbers that we've been up to so far. It's kind of interesting, the way we got started was just a general contractor that lived here in Taunton, and he saw the tremendous amount of casualties that were returning from Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2003, 2004 timeframe. And he really thought being a home builder that he could do some things in a home that would make it easier on a veteran as they moved forward with their life. And so, he was looking around and finally one local in Middleborough, Mass., by the name of Pete Damon, he was a army national Guardsman, he went over and talked to Pete and said, "Hey, I think I can build you a home that'll make it easier on you."

And Pete lost basically both of his arms, hands, and he said, "I'd really like to do this for you." And to his credit, and the same way with all of our veterans, they would say, "No, no thank you. I don't deserve something like that. I was just doing my job." Well, we all know that's not correct. They really do deserve it. So, he kept after him and Pete finally said, "Okay, I'll build it, or I'll accept your home on one condition and that's I'm not the last and that you keep building it for others." And like that we had a mission and a vision, and haven't looked back since. Pete's actually still in home number one. He got it in 2005. It's also located right with his art studio over in Middleborough, Mass.

The name of the studio is True Grit. He's done a lot of work for us. And if you do recall, I explained his injuries that he lost both arms, both hands, and he actually draws using one of the hook prosthetics on an arm. And he is an extremely accomplished artist. So, the things that guys and gals can do even after these injuries is just amazing. Some of the challenges they have coming home are just with the daily mundane things that all of us take for granted. So, getting up in the morning, getting a shower, getting cleaned up, dressed, whatever they're going to do during the day, whether it's cooking, just getting something to drink, eat, a lot of those things, they end up needing some assistance from spouse, or a caregiver, or other members of the family or friends just to do some of those things.

Going in and taking a shower, you can see some of the pictures there of guys missing limbs, it's not only sporty trying to get in and out of a shower like that, it's just extremely dangerous. And we've had veterans fall and injure themselves in bathrooms. We've had spouses and caregivers fall through some of those doors that are on showers and things like that and hurt themselves, and with narrow hallways, doorways, two stories, things like that, the guys that would be using their chairs can't always, and if they choose to go into a part of the house that they can't use the chair in, they're either always up on their prosthetics or they're hopping if they got one, what they would call a good leg, or they're just dragging themselves around.

And I think everybody listening to this cast would say these veterans have sacrificed enough rust downrange, they shouldn't have to continue to fight through those kinds of challenges at their homes. The home ought to be a place of respite like it is for most of us. And that's where our home comes in. And some of the adaptations you can see there, the roll-under cooktop, or the stove top there, there's roll under prep areas in the kitchen, a roll under sink. The shower is a roll-in shower that the veteran can go in, transfer over to a bench, take a shower all by themselves. All the doorways, hallways are wide.

They can do a 360 in their wheelchair anywhere inside that home. And if they are ones that use a wheelchair a lot, they need to get off their prosthetics. They don't need to stay on them that long because they can re-injure themselves, end up with sores on their residual limbs and things like that. So, they really need to be in their chairs, and getting a home like this that's laid out for them, we build it for the veteran but it does affect the entire family. But they can do a lot of wonderful things. After moving into our homes, 95% of our veterans tell us that the stress level in the overall family has gone down. The employment rate for our veterans more than doubles after moving in. Employment rate of spouses and caregivers though more than triples.

So, one of the things these homes do, one of the things they enable is more time because they end up wasting a whole lot of time and effort on those mundane things when they can't get around and move around and do things for themselves, and it really frees them up and their families up to do other things. So, there's lots of other things that go on. That's one of the great impact on the spouses. A lot of these families are into paying it forward for people that are coming behind them. And one of the great ways that the veterans are able to pay it forward is by volunteering in their local community. But before getting into one of our homes, only about one in five or 22% of our veterans are able to take the time to go out and volunteer in the community. After moving in, that goes up to 75%.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: That's amazing. Wow.

Tom Landwermeyer: It's truly life-changing impact that these homes enable these veterans to go through.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: I know last year when you were talking about it and you talked about the families and especially the spouses, that it just makes such a huge difference to them, and being able to live life, and go back to school, jobs, careers. Maybe talk just a little bit about that.

Tom Landwermeyer: So, it does. We build it for the veterans. So, all these adaptations really and truly are to help provide the veteran that ability to restore the freedom and independence that they sacrificed for us. But it does affect the spouses and caregivers. I'd like to recall one story of a spouse down in Florida that always told me before getting their home, she kept working and her husband was lost his right leg, hip disarticulation also all the way up to the hip. And she would leave him alone with two young kids. One of them was a baby. And she said every time she went to work, as soon as she closed the door her worry mechanism would kick in. And during work she would just be thinking about them all the time. And she would call home a lot, "Is everything okay? Are you okay? Is the baby okay?"

And she was constantly worried about them. And they got their home in January of '20, and I asked her a few months later, I said, "Hey, how's everything going?" And she said, "You know that worry mechanism I talked to you about?" And I said, "Yeah." She goes, "It's nonexistent. I don't worry about anything. I walk out the front door and go to work, and it really frees me up to focus on work and not worry about the other things, because I know he can take care of himself and the kids." And so, that's the way that it does affect the entire family. You talk to some of these veterans and they'll tell you what are they looking forward to in the homes besides the big roll-in shower where they can go in the shower by themselves. They will all tell you, "Hey, I just want to be a regular dad, or spouse, mom, or dad, or spouse like everybody else does. Right now where I live, everybody has to try and help me out and I don't like that. I want to be a full member of the family."

And then when they move into the homes, they are. They're able to do all those things. There's some of them that turn in to stay at home dads and they're able to do that stuff, and mom is out there working. And others it's the other way around. Sometimes a veteran goes out and gets a job and stuff. So, it really does impact the entire family.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: That is so amazing. I know we talked a little bit about that last year, but I still think about that. And speaking of from last year, I would love to share what are some of the things that have happened besides all of these homes, you're now across the country. What are some of the highlights in the last year that you can share with us since we talked last?

Tom Landwermeyer: Well, the biggest thing I touched on earlier is we expanded into three states. So, you can see all the green houses on there are ones that we've completed. The red ones are underway, the yellow ones are actually unique to us. They're called the HAP, a HAP Home, H-A-P Home. So, it's Housing Assistance Program. And what we did several years ago, and I want to say it was around 2014, is we partnered with Chase Bank and they provided us some homes that had been foreclosed on. And we took some of our resources and went in, spruced up the home, put some adaptations in it, and then provided those homes to some injured veterans and also to a few gold star families. But as we did that for about a year, we looked at it pretty hard and our board looked at it pretty hard, and decided that's not the way we wanted to continue to move forward.

We wanted to go with our tried and true find the location that the veteran wants to live, and build them a home from the ground up. So, we can kind of changed that around. But that's what those little yellow homes are for. The red ones are all under construction. We've actually got 75 projects ongoing around the country, from trying to find land for these veterans to just about to give them the keys. We've got five more key ceremonies scheduled during the month of June. It'll be a busy month for us, and it just keeps going. The two things that are really unique about us, one is the veterans choose where they want to live. So, you can see that on this map where a lot of the veterans want to live. You'll see a bunch of them that are over there on the East Coast, some down through the South to the Southwest, a little group of them there around Denver, Colorado area, and then up the West Coast, Seattle.

What you find with these veterans is they will either return home, some of them. So, the ones you see up there in Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, all those guys and gals are going back home.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: I love it.

Tom Landwermeyer: They're not necessarily choosing that as the new locale, they just want to go back home. Others that you see in some of those big spots, and the grouping down there around San Diego doesn't do it justice. We built over 30 homes down the San Diego area. So, there's a big chunk. There's a big chunk in San Antonio. We built over 50 in Texas. But these veterans will choose where they want to have their forever home for different reasons. Some of them go back home to families to where that support structure was already in place. Others are wanting to get away from family and stuff like that.

Some want to go where it's warmer, because a lot of their injuries they feel a lot better in the warmer climates than in cold weather. Some of them will go where there's good VA systems, like Tampa's got a good rep for VA, Palm Beach area's got a good one going. Orlando's got a good one. So, there's a bunch of homes that are going up down there or they go back to maybe where they may have done a lot of their rehab. So, the military hospital area. So, that big group that you got there around the DC area, a lot of them are going back in there because most every one of these veterans started the rehab once they came back from Germany and launched to them, started the rehab there. Walter Reed in Bethesda. There's also a big burn unit, world-class, the world-class burn unit is at Brook Army Medical Center down at San Antonio.

And then a lot of them, especially on the marine side, rehabbed out at naval base San Diego, so Balboa Hospital is out there. So, that's why you get a lot of these different groupings. But again, they get to choose where they want to live. We go out and find the land, we bounce it off of them to make sure that is in fact where they want to put this forever home, and then we'll buy it and we'll make sure we can build on it. And then we'll build them a home from the ground up. And we find custom home builders in a local area to do that. If we find a home builder that has built for us before, if it's an area that they've built for us, we'll go back to them as long as they did a good job. We've got some great builders there in Washington State.

A huge one down in Southern California around San Antonio, a couple of them in Florida, one up in the Tennessee area. And then we've got one young builder that is just pretty amazing to me, because what I've found in my six and a half years of being here is the contractors tend to have a radius that they stay within. And normally you're not going to get an hour outside of that radius that they'll go build in because all their subs, a lot of where they get the materials is all pretty closely confined. But we got a builder up here in the northeast that when one of our veterans homes burned down in December of 2016, he actually came to us and said, "I'd like to rebuild that home for him." So, we worked with him and he rebuilt that veteran's home.

And then he built for us in New Hampshire, he built again for us in Maine. He built another home for us in Connecticut. He built again in Massachusetts, and now he's a working for us building a home in Florida. So, when I say normally you got that little radius, this guy is all over the map and he builds a great home, and he's fast. So, that's good to have. If we can get custom home builders that are repeat builders because they did well for us, those are the ones to get, because honestly, Heidi, and to anybody that's listening, our floor plans that we want people to build to are really not complicated. They're pretty straightforward and fairly simple. We do a few different things in our build that other people may not, and we want them done that way. But what is complicated about us are our processes, because we have a ton of corporate partners.

The biggest and the best for us has been a ABC Supply over the last several years. But we've got a ton of corporate partners out there that supply materials for our builds. And they come from all over the country. And we've got contracts with them that their materials are going to be used in our builds. So, instead of a builder being able to go into his backyard to get all the materials, they now have to coordinate with us. And we've got different lead times than they're used to. So, a new builder will experience some humps and bumps as they go through our process, but the good ones will shine through and they'll just, "Yeah, okay. I got this now," and they'll be ready to go for a second one because they learned a lot on the first one. So, we get a good builder, first timer that does a great job, we will always go back to them as many times as possible.

The other thing that's really unique to us is that we stay in contact with our veterans. So, we give them the keys at their key ceremony. It's a big patriotic event, but then we will stay in contact with them for the rest of the time. And we do that really for three reasons. One, we promised them a quality home. If there's issues, they just let us know, we'll get with a builder and we'll get back in and fix things. We need feedback on those special adaptations I talked about. So, we don't have anybody that's missing limbs or in a wheelchair up here at our headquarters. We have to have feedback from our veterans and our families as to what's good, what's okay, something we missed, and something we shouldn't even put in other homes because it's not value added to them.

And that's how we're constantly tweaking our house plans. If a veteran got a house from us five years ago and goes to a key ceremony tomorrow, he will find a different home because we continue to tweak them. And then the last reason we stay in contact with them is really the most important. And that's where building homes, rebuilding lives comes in. Rebuilding lives is the most important aspect of what we do. These veterans and their families are going to achieve some terrific things moving forward after they get in their homes. And we want to be there to celebrate with them, whether or not that's a new degree, a new job, a new child, a marriage, whatever it may be, we want to be there to have fun and celebrate with them. But these veterans and the severe injuries that they have, they are going to be rehab and recovering for the rest of their lives.

It's not going to go away with a new home. Their injuries are still going to be there. The community's still going to need to support them, but they will be doing it for the rest of the time. And they're going to have a lot of great days, and like I say, accomplishments, but every single one of them is going to experience some down times. And we want to be there when they have those down times to help them through it. And we've got a group in our office called Veteran Support. It's six folks, and that's all they do is stay in contact with these veterans for all those reasons. And if somebody's having an issue, they'll contact them, try and put them in contact with the correct veteran support organization that can help them out or their family out. And then we also have a peer mentoring group of about eight to 10 home recipients or spouses of veterans that are in our homes.

And there's probably four of us here on the staff that could talk to them, veteran to veteran, combat veteran to combat veteran. But like I said, none of us can talk to them severely injured veteran to severely injured veteran. But those on our veteran action advisory team can. So, if we find somebody that really needs to talk to a peer or something, we'll sick these guys on them and they'll get out there and be able to talk Turkey to them straight on and not hold back. And it really helps our veterans out. And they also get feedback from our veterans that we put into the home plans or our processes. And each head of our veteran action advisory team sits on our national board of directors and it has a vote. So, our veterans have a voice on our board direct into the veteran action advisory team. And that lead can take them right to the board on any kind of issues.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: That's excellent. Wow. I mean, such a great organization, and you've really looked at everything across the board. And I want to go back to the builders a little bit because, first of all, I want to give a shout-out to Elizabeth Evans with E2. She's in Roofers Coffee Shop R Club. She's actually getting married and on her honeymoon this week. So, congratulations Elizabeth. But she has built at least one house and she's started on a second one, isn't that correct?

Tom Landwermeyer: Yep, that's true. She built one for us in Jacksonville. She's got one underway. I was down there just a couple weeks ago. I think we've got all the gopher tortoises taken care of that are a protected species down there and there's certain things you got to do to get rid of those guys and make sure they don't come back. But we've done that and ready to be moving dirt, and start work on a build there. Interesting thing about that veteran, and I'll come back to Elizabeth because I definitely want to sing some praises, but that particular veteran is the only veteran we have in a program that's been in three different military services. We've got several of them that have been like Army Marines or maybe Air Force Army or something like that. But this young man, he's a retired master sergeant, name is Chris Blauvelt, and Elizabeth is building his home.

And he started out in the Coast Guard as a rescue swimmer, did that for five years, got out, started to go to college. He said, "College wasn't for me." So, he went into the Marine Corps, was a force recon guy, so a infantryman. And that's where he met his wife out in California and got married, and she said, "Enough of this Marine Corps stuff, you're never here." So he got out, they moved to Connecticut, where he's from originally, moved back to Connecticut and then he said, "Hey, I really miss this kind of stuff. I want to go into the National Guard. That way I'm here more. I'm not always gone like I was with the Marines." So she said, "Okay." So, he went into the guard, well that's where he got injured.

But he served an entire career but in three different services. But Elizabeth has this build down in Florida. And the great news I want to tell Elizabeth about is that we've actually got two more veterans that are coming to our veterans' conference in August. It's the last vetting process we have before we bring them into our family and tell them we're going to build them a home. And two of the eight that we've got coming in August want to build in Jacksonville.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: Oh, that's great. And I've got some questions here, so I want to get to those, as the contractors out there are thinking, "Hey, I want to help, I can help with roofing," or we have a lot of exterior contractors, we have all different kinds of things, the best bet is to get involved with the builders and talk to the builders.

Tom Landwermeyer: It is, Heidi. And this slide that's up right now, that is the spot to go on the website. So, it's the build map we have. It's easily accessible on our website. You can get to that in one click. And then off to the side or below it, depending on what you're using, a big computer screen or a handheld, it'll have builds by state. So, a builder could just click on their state and it'll show all the bills that we have currently in progress in that state. And you can also hit a button and be put on a list where we'll send you all the updates on that build. You can reach out to us and say, "Hey, I'm in this area. Can you link me up with the builder so that I can see if he needs help doing this, that, or the other thing?" And we'll make that happen for you. But this is the spot to start for anybody out there that truly wants to help inside of a build process.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: Yeah. And we're going to talk about that a little bit more. There's a lot of different ways to help. But I wanted everyone to see this, to look for your builders if you want to get involved or connect with them. If you're down in the Jacksonville area, Elizabeth Evans, and you can find her on the directory of Roofers Coffee Shop because she's just absolutely a most amazing lady. Also a veteran. We do have a question, Tom, and it's a really interesting one. So, thank you Scott Snyder for putting this in the chat. He says, "I work in the solar industry, are solar installers contractors involved too? If no, why not? And if yes, what does that look like?" So, are you putting solar on these homes?

Tom Landwermeyer: We're putting solar where it's mandated, and it's actually a requirement in California since I think is either '20 or '21. I'm starting to get dated a little bit. But every one of our builds in California has solar, and we have a company out there that does provide solar as gift in kind. And they work with the builder, primarily a guy by the name of Scott Youngren, to put on our homes. In other places, we're working on trying to get companies to be like a national partner so we can put it on all of our homes. And it just depends on where we're at in the United States, where we're building, and what is really called for or generally done in those regional areas, that's how we will build.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: That's great. That's great. So Scott, yes, and growing. Great question. We also had a question from Lauren. Thank you Lauren for being on from Colorado. And she says, "This is amazing. It's Lauren with R3NG. We are recruiting for our All Veterans Roofing Academy and would love any great veterans group recommendations to reach out to." So, to give you a little context of that, we have contractors across the country who are starting to, and Lauren is one of the leaders in this, starting to put together roofing academies to teach roofing. And they're going to be doing one with All Veterans. So, who would you recommend, who should she reach out to invite veterans to get jobs and to learn more about roofing?

Tom Landwermeyer: Well, there's really I think lots of ways to do that, Heidi. One might take a period of time because you start from the grassroots and you make sure that your company is veteran friendly, military friendly, the word gets out it is. And then people will start to apply to you. Now, how do you make sure you're veteran friendly? Well, if you've got any military in the area, and pretty much everybody does, at least with guard or reserve, if you're located in the Denver area you're pretty close to Colorado Springs, if you can attend or sponsor veteran related events or military related events that happen in different locations, that's a way to get your brand out there and let people know that you're hiring, and you want to talk to veterans. Because it's great to hire them, I'll tell you. And we could talk about that as well as to why it's good to hire veterans.

I think it's a department of labor that has a pretty good guide for companies, and a resource directory on how to hire veterans. And then also I think it's hireveterans.com is another place to go to, to help you out with hiring veterans. But really the best way is seek out veteran and military type organizations in your areas and become a part of them, sponsor them, attend events and stuff like that. And it will be known quickly the companies that are out there supporting these efforts. And people will know that you're military friendly, and that's what a lot of veterans are looking for.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: Yeah, that's great. That's great. So, now let's talk about that a little bit. How can roofing companies, you can talk about that a little bit more, but how can roofing companies be more veteran friendly and also really look at how important that is such a great match between construction, roofing, and veterans who are coming out and looking for work?

Tom Landwermeyer: Well, and I think it's a great match for any employer and you don't have to get an engineer that was building something in the Army, or the Air Force, or something like that. If you just got a veteran, there's things about veterans that make them a great choice for a hire. I mean, most of your veterans are going to be self-starters, you're not going to have to really oversee these veterans on a daily basis like you might have to on a new hire. We start guys and gals in the military at a very young age. And we're talking even 18, 19, 20 years old in charge of things and responsible for millions of dollars worth of equipment very soon people. So, they're not unfamiliar with leadership positions. They have had experience, they're used to working short timelines so they're used to pressure situations, they're used to stress and being able to handle it.

They're very reliable. You're not going to get a lot of veterans that are going to be calling you in the morning saying, "Well, I know I'm going to be late but it's because my car won't start." They will figure out a way to get there. But they're very reliable, they're trustworthy, they value integrity so you're not going to have to worry about their integrity because that's one of the top values within the military that we stand by. And then another thing on veterans is we're used to looking at ourselves pretty hard and not always from the positive side. We tend to look a lot on the things that we haven't done well. We'll look at actions that we took and say, "Okay, yeah. That was good, that was good, but where can we improve?"

So, they're really a pretty resilient bunch because we usually look pretty hard at ourselves. The way the military looks at it, if you're always focused on what you're doing good, you'll never get better. So, veterans will tend to dig in a little bit and not be focused on that good stuff. They'll take the pat on the back, but they're looking at trying to get even better. And the way you can do that is focus on some of those challenges. They're a great resource, and they are looking for good teams to be on because they've been on some of the best in the world in the military.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: Yeah. I mean, it seems like such a perfect fit, I mean, across the board. We do have another question that came in from Leanne Slaterly. Thank you Leanne, for being on. And she says, "Thanks to you and Homes for our Troops for everything you do. Several years ago our local CSI, Construction Specification Institute chapter volunteered to help with a local Homes for our Troops build. It was very rewarding to be involved in that and I encourage everyone, if they have the opportunity, to get involved. This would be a great project for National Women in Roofing councils to become involved in." I agree, Leanne. So, we have a lot of organizations out there in the roofing world and construction overall that are getting involved with you. So, do you see a lot of, not just individuals or companies, but also associations who are involved?

Tom Landwermeyer: There are, and it just depends on the area. And some of it is how good we are at getting the word out that we're in the area and we're doing something. And sometimes that can be a challenge, because all of our folks live here just outside of Boston. For each one of our builds we have three events. One is the kickoff ceremony, which really it's a real patriotic ceremony, but it's normally done in a school, a church, a VFW, American Legion, someplace like that. And we have a escort bring the veteran in. It's usually police, fire department, first responders from the area along with patriot guard riders and any other clubs or association that may have cars and different things to escort the veteran in. A lot of flag waving, bring the veteran family inside, we'll have a few folks talk, corporate partners, fundraisers, elected officials, and then give our veteran a chance to speak.

And then everybody gets to meet the veteran. And the intent of that kickoff is to introduce the community to the veteran that chose to live in that community, and to introduce the veteran to the community. Then the build goes on, we do that right around the time we pour the slab, then we get into the rest of the build. And about six weeks before we're done, we'll do a volunteer day. And that needs just a ton of effort and volunteers from the local community. Everybody can come 15,000 to 20,000 square foot of sod. We're putting in trees, plants, shrubs, doing all the mulch, or rock, or whatever it calls for in the local area, the regional landscaping norms. But we do all that. We have a DJ on site, we always cater for lunch right afterwards.

Most of the places the folks that cater for us is Texas Roadhouse, and Texas Roadhouse is actually our longest running partner. They've been with us from the start in 2004, and in most of our events where we need some chow, if there's one nearby they're the first ones to raise their hand and say they want to do it. And then about six weeks after that we do a key ceremony. It's kind of a mirror of the patriotic event with an escort and everything that we did for the kickoff, but it's actually at the home site, and you need volunteers again for that particular event to make sure it all goes smoothly that day. We bring them in, at the home we do the same thing, have a few speakers, let the veterans speak, and then we go around to the front of the home. And to that point we've had a Homes for our Troops flag that's run up the flag pole.

At that point we change it over to a U.S. flag and that signifies transferring that home to a veteran. And then we move to the front, we have a yellow ribbon up there and we present them with a ceremonial key. Let them cut the ribbon, let them go into their home. They spend the first couple minutes in there, just take a look around. And then we let everyone that attends go into the home. That's when myself and the staff will be around answering questions. We can point out all the different adaptations, because I'm telling you, unless you're into either age in place building or you've been building adapted homes for somebody else, you really don't understand all the adaptations that are in there. They just will not jump up and hit you in the face a lot of them. Some of them will, but a bunch of them won't. And we can take you through there and show people all the different adaptations. They get a better feel for what we've got in the home. But those are different ways they can get involved as volunteers as well.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: I love it. I love it. I have a couple comments here. One just came in and said, "The veterans I worked with in Tacoma, Washington all ended up in leadership positions at my previous company. They were our favorite employees because of their work ethic." So, there you go. In Tacoma, we know there's a big base there and a lot of activity. And we also had a question here which I think goes with what you were just talking about. But what is that transition like when they move into their home? Do you have in-home support and training for the first few weeks or months?

Tom Landwermeyer: That's a great question and I appreciate whoever asked that. A couple things. We want to set these veterans up for success as homeowners, because even though we give this home to them, and the day that we run up that flag, and by the way, if we got a HOA out there that doesn't allow flagpoles, we're not going to buy your property because we're not going to build in a place that doesn't allow us to fly the American flag. And then I got myself distracted when I said that.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: But support in the home for the first couple weeks or months.

Tom Landwermeyer: So, they are a homeowner because they're going to have to do all the upkeep of the home, whatever the HOA calls for. They've got utilities they're going to have to pay for, they're going to have to ensure it's insured. Ensure it's insured, that's a great one. They've got insurance for the home, and the biggest one is the taxes. So, we keep a lien on the home. Even though we deed it to them and we sign it over, we put a lien on the home for 10 years. And that's been the amount of time that our partners and donors have settled on and accept as if we can keep these veterans in the home for at least 10 years we'll be okay. So, it's in their contract that it is their primary place of residence for 10 years. The first five years they don't build any equity.

The last five years is 20% a year, and at the end of 10 years we remove the lien. It's their home free and clear. That keeps them from flipping the home. We've never had one flipped and won't. It also gives them a little bit of an out to protect them from maybe a military buddy or a long-lost cousin that comes back in and says, "Hey, remember when we were sitting down there by the lake and we said when we grew up we were going to start this business. Well, you got this home, you don't have a mortgage so we could take out a loan against your home and start this business." With a lien, we tell the veteran, "Hey, you can keep your white hat on with your family or friend relationship there, and just point back to us in the black hats and say, 'They won't let me do that because they got the lean.'" So, that's-

Heidi J. Ellsworth: So, you're protecting them. You're protecting.

Tom Landwermeyer: We are. We are. And they appreciate that. They understand that. The other thing is, before we bring them into the family one of the things we do is a financial health check, and we look at all their finances. Because some of these troops were pretty young when they went down range and got injured. And I'm talking 19, 20 years old. And when I was 22 coming as a second lieutenant, my finances weren't in the right place and I hadn't been down range and gotten all sorts of tax-free money and stuff like that. So, a lot of times we can find that their finances are upside down and we have a company that provides three years of financial planning assistance pro bono to every one of our veterans and families. And if we find those veterans that are upside down early, we will start that financial planner early so that they can get in the right shape financially to be a homeowner.

We have a booklet, it's a big three-inch binder that we actually call Home Ownership 101, and we take them through that when they come to conference, and our veteran support folks stay in contact with them so that if they have any issues, whether it be warranty or they just got a problem, they can always call into veteran support and we'll help them figure out the way ahead. One of the key things though is property taxes. Property taxes, as probably everybody on here knows, are always done at the lower level. So, they're going to be at the county, the city, the municipal level. And that's the one thing that we can't protect them from is if they get so far behind on their taxes that a county is going to do a tax foreclosure, they could lose their home. The good thing about having a lien is we know if their insurance lapses and we can contact them.

We also know their status on property tax. So, we monitor all these guys and gals in our homes, and if they get behind on their property tax, then depending on how far in arrears they get in their property tax will determine how far up the chain here in the organization they get a phone call. And it normally doesn't take much to get their attention to say, "You have to pay your taxes. We don't want you to lose your home." Only on a couple of occasions has it gotten to my number two in the next office, and in the six and a half years I've been here I've been aware of those couple that have gotten to him, but it's never come to my desk to have to call a veteran to say, "You better pull your head out because you're going to lose your home if you don't watch out." So, that's some of the ways that we work to help them going forward and set them up for success being a homeowner.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: That's excellent. That's excellent. Well, you have had another great thing happen in this last year since we talked last, and it is on a new board member. And you have a beautiful story to tell on that, so I want to make sure we get to that. So, this is the board of directors that everyone is seeing, and many will see that Diane Hendrix is here and we'd love to hear that story.

Tom Landwermeyer: So, ABC has supported us, we're now into actually the fourth year of their support, and she's a great lady. And last year they came to us and said, "Hey, we sponsor a IndyCar every year and we decided that in '22 we want to make it all about you guys." So, they had the IndyCar painted the red, white and blue, and I think Heidi's actually got one from-

Heidi J. Ellsworth: I do.

Tom Landwermeyer: It's the same paint scheme, but they painted that car red, white and blue with the stars. Our logo is just all over it. With the actual car, there's only a couple places where you see ABC Supply. Everywhere else you see all this Homes for our Troops stuff, our website's on it, the tagline is on it, our logo's everywhere. And they decided last year that they would do a million dollar match of donations during the week of the Indy 500. And then they invited us and several of our veterans to come into the Indy for the race, and we raised over 1.1 million that week and they matched the million dollars they said they would, and we got a lot of increased awareness from having that car and everything. And at the event, the actual race day last year, I was watching Diane as she spent probably 75% of her time that day talking to our veterans during the race.

She would sit there and just be talking to a veteran and their spouse, and she would just go from veteran to veteran. Now, this is somebody in charge of an incredibly successful organization and the co-founder of it, incredibly successful woman in business. And here she was spending all her time just talking to these veterans. And I went out and got to a semi quiet place, and I called my chairman of the board and I said, "Hey sir, here's what I'm watching. And we don't have a lot of ladies on our board, we really could use another one, and I'd like to invite her to join our board and see if she'd want ... I have no idea if she's got the time or anything like that, but she'd be a great one for our board." I said, "ABC's such a great sponsor of ours, why not?"

He said, "Go for it." So, there during the race we got some time and I pulled her off the side, and I told her, thanked her how much they had done for us and everything, and told her that talked to my chairman and we wanted to invite her to come to our board and be a director if she had the time. And she told me what I thought was about to be a no because she started saying, "Well, I've stepped back from all the boards that I was on, I'm just concentrating on the company, I'm doing this." And I thought that was just a real soft no coming. And then she said, "But actually, there's no mission I'd rather be a part of than yours, so I would gladly become a member of your board."

And I was blown away. So went back, got in touch with the chairman, he gave her a call after the race, we did the things we got to do with the board. We voted her in August and she attended her first board meeting in November, and she comes to our board meetings and she's a great board director, and we are really proud to have her on our board.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: That is so cool. I love it. And we're so happy. I mean, to have the roofing industry through Diane and all the things that they do with ABC Supply to be part of your board. That's just a great honor. A great honor. So, on that note, I do have one question here from Jill. Hi Jill Tackett, thank you for being on. She said, "Thank you for your service, love what you are doing, would like to be a part of a project in my area for the service day where the community comes out to do landscaping and other tasks. Do I monitor your website for an opportunity?"

Tom Landwermeyer: That's the best way to do it, Jill. Thank you for the question. Best way is to go to that build map that we had up earlier. Go to your state, see if we're building near you. If we are, you can actually hit a link right there and it'll take you to that veterans build, and you can sign in there and leave your email address and say, "I want to keep updated on this veterans build." And we'll actually send updates and invites as we set those different events for the veteran. So, that really is the best way to do it.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: And it looks like there's a calendar of events on the website, so you can look in your area and see what's happening. That is excellent. So, we have just a little bit more time left, but let's talk about what's coming up this weekend. So, Memorial Day weekend, you're going to be at the Indy, and tell us a little bit about what's going to be happening this weekend.

Tom Landwermeyer: So, this year ABC came back with the same thing. They said, "Hey, again, we want to make it all about you guys." That's the car sitting there. And what they decided to do this year that's a little bit different is the dollar for dollar match on donations, but for the entire month of May. And they went to that so that they wanted to increase the awareness, and with their posts on social media with the posts from A.J. Foyt Racing as they've been doing great the past week or so in practice and then in qualifications last weekend. And actually A.J. and his team have the driver in this, the number 14 car, and the driver is Santino Ferucci, a Connecticut kid that we'll get to meet. There we go, number 14.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: Number 14.

Tom Landwermeyer: He'll be running this weekend. And they did so great, and I was actually on a plane back from a build event on Sunday watching the last hour of the qualifying when he was running for the poll. It was pretty neat. But they'll have a bunch of our veterans again and for the weekend, show them a great time and they'll be there. But anybody that's out there, if you donate during the month of May it'll double the impact. And Heidi, I know we're running a little over time, but-

Heidi J. Ellsworth: No, we're good, we're good.

Tom Landwermeyer: ... I just want to say another thing about Diane Hendrix, just to show you what this lady is all about. At the dinner on Saturday evening, all the big sponsors have their dinners and usually the heads of their race cars and the teams that they're sponsoring go to dinner with them, and get to talk a little bit, and you get to meet the driver and such. Last year A.J. Foyt actually came to dinner along with our driver and his son Larry, and attended dinner. Well, we had one of our veterans come, we had a few of them. We always bring the ones that are interested in racing to this event, for obvious reasons. One of them we had coming, a kid by the name of Liam Dwyer, Marine out of Florida, is a race car driver. And he was telling us, "My mentor in racing, the guy I've looked up to my entire life is A.J. Foyt."

And he said, "Do you think he will be at dinner?" And we said, "We don't know but we'll see." Well, we showed up for dinner and we had these tables, and Liam and his wife Megan were seated there next to Miss Hendricks. And on the other side of Miss Hendricks was a place guard that said A.J. And so, I went up to Diane and I said, "Hey, this could be really cool tonight." And she goes, "Why is that?" I said, "Because this kid over here, if A.J. is coming ..." She said, "He'll be here. He's just always fashionably on time." And I said, "Well, this kid loves A.J., he's on a pedestal with him. For him to even meet him or say hello to him would probably cause him to pass out. He is that enamored with A.J. and what he's done over his career." And Diane looked at him and said, "Really?"

And she walked up to the table and she took her name tag, and went over and took Liam's little place card and switched them so that Liam sat next to A.J. all night long. That's the kind of lady Miss Hendrix is.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: Oh my gosh. Oh geeze, I love those kind of stories. That's awesome. Okay, so great. So, I want everyone out there, the information is here. You can find this on Roofers Coffee Shop. You can find the link to where to go to donate. It's on the ABC Supply directory. It's also, there's a full press release that came out on it, and just check social media. It's everywhere. One last question, General, for you is just as people are looking to be involved and work more with veterans, I would just like, what's your one piece of advice? What should roofing contractors, the roofing industry, what should they be doing?

Tom Landwermeyer: Well, the only thing I would say is when you're working to support organizations that support veterans, especially severely injured veterans, is the only way we can do what we do is support American public. Whether that be donations or time, materials, whatever it may be, and we don't look at what we do as charity. We look at what we do is the moral obligation of citizens of our country to repay a very small portion of a debt that will never be completely repaid to these veterans and their families. They raised their right hand, they volunteered. We hadn't had a draft since 1973, so they volunteered, they went down range and in the blink of an eye, their life and their lives of their families change forever.

And as citizens of this country and them defending our freedoms, we owe it to them to take care of them. And this happens to be one of those organizations that you count on. If you come and support us, we will be taken care of those veterans. So, you don't have to have been in uniform to serve. Everybody always thanks us for our service and we always tell them, 'You were worth it. This country was worth it." But you can also serve just by supporting organizations that support our veterans.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: That's excellent. Thank you so much. Thank you. Enjoy your weekend. Please send love from everyone here at Roofers Coffee Shop, and all the folks on here to all the veterans who will be attending, to the ABC Supply community. And thank you so much, big thank-yous are coming through on the chat too. Thank you for being here and taking your time with us.

Tom Landwermeyer: No Heidi, thank you for the time. Thanks to ABC Supply for the opportunity, and we're going to break through that one million without even blinking. And we really hope that A.J. and number 14 and Santino go fast this weekend. Thank you.

Heidi J. Ellsworth: Thank you. I know we'll be watching. So, everybody be watching and rooting for number 14 this weekend. And please, if you can go to Homes for our Troops and donate. Help this out and let's get that great match. Thank you all for being here today. This is just the kind of stuff that I think just starts your day out great on a Thursday. Two weeks from now on June 8th, we are going to be celebrating Pride month and we are super excited about that. So, please join us. You'll be seeing it coming out, and we'll all be back here ready to have another great conversation bringing the roofing industry together. Thank you all for being here, and we will see you in a couple weeks on another Coffee Conversation.

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