Homestretch, a Falls Church-based nonprofit that attempts to address and reverse the root causes of homelessness, received something of a makeover in late October as part of a new program that the e-commerce and cloud computing company Amazon recently started called Local Love.
More than 75 volunteers who work with Amazon, along with local service providers, spent a Saturday in October renovating and remodeling parts of Homestretch’s building at 303 S. Maple Avenue and created an additional space for health and wellness in the facility. In addition to creating a new health wellness center, the volunteers renovated Homestretch’s employment center and remodeled its multipurpose room.
“I think this was a wonderful project, just to bring awareness to the local community and local businesses that we’re here and we’re here to do good work with families,” said Alejandra Carrera, a senior case manager for Homestretch. “And I think it’s touching to see people in that quantity come together for other people who are in need.”
Local Love was created by Erika Takeuchi, who said that Amazon was trying to find a way to sustainably give back to communities and nonprofits when she came up with the idea. “Amazon had a lot of great resources and partnerships already with the sellers that we have and, on our side, we have a lot of passionate employees,” she said. “So, we wanted to see if we could put that to good use and expand that footprint and give back in a positive way.”
And, so far, they have. Local Love had already completed three other major community service projects before working to renovate Homestretch. The program’s kickoff event was at Dawson Place Child Advocacy Center in Everett, Wash. where volunteers painted the building’s hallways and offices, updated bathroom fixtures, wall mounted new televisions and installed new microphones.
Next, they renovated Ohana Animal Rescue in Tempe, Ariz. There they gave the animal rescue center an exterior facelift, refreshed the medical exam room and created two new meet and greet rooms out of storage closets. Finally, Local Love went to Detroit Achievement Academy and renovated and furnished a new school and installed garden beds on the academy’s property. So far, over 350 volunteers and service providers and nearly 30 retailers have participated in the project. They have donated 1,800 hours and over $80,000 in product donations.
But Amazon doesn’t want to stop there. Takeuchi said that they have plans to try to scale the program in order to serve more communities around the country.
“It’s been a pretty grassroots effort, I’d say. Every nonprofit is different in what they need and every city is different,” she said. “So we kind of take each event one by one, but we’re hoping in the future to find a way to scale the program because there are so many passionate folks that we’ve found that we want to continue to give back.”
Amazon’s attempt to give back with Local Love has already created benefits, at least according to Carrera. She said that Homestretch’s newly renovated employment center – which has several new computers that sit on a new desk – has been a big hit with certain subset of their clientele.
“We also use that space for tutoring with the teens and they were really impressed,” Carrera said. “They were really excited to get on these new computers with new applications. I think it actually motivated them to start working on their homework. So definitely that space with the teens.”
She said the new health and wellness center, which has a scale, two treadmills, an exercise bike, yoga mats, weights and exercise balls, was an important addition to the building.
“One of our biggest missions as a program is that we want to help educate clients and motivate them to start thinking about their health and wellness – their nutrition and physical activity,” Carrera said. “So it’s great that we have a place for that. We haven’t started yet, so much, but to tell them that we have a place where they can work out and have childcare available that’s close to home, I think is a great benefit.”
Overall, there were $18,000 in product donations given to Local Love for their renovation of Homestretch. There were several other upgrades that Homestretch received in addition to the aforementioned.
The walls of the health and wellness center were painted along with all of the new exercise equipment that was donated to Homestretch for that room. In addition to the new computer lab and new custom desk in the employment center, Homestretch got a new printer and books. And the multipurpose room got a projector and projector screen.
The staff kitchen in the multipurpose room was retiled and the kitchen got a new faucet, sink and garbage disposal. Four different companies from around the region donated their time and labor to the effort – Meskel General Contractors in Aldie, Va., Arch Craft Design and Cullen Electric in Alexandria and Interactive Business Solutions in Brandywine, Md.
Carrera said that she came to Homestretch for the renovation project on October 22, but that she didn’t stay for long because she wanted “a big surprise” when she walked into work the following Monday. And she was impressed by the work that the Local Love volunteers and local service providers did.
“There was a wow factor when I came into work, even with our upstairs multipurpose room,” Carrera said. “It was impressive having technology in there. We definitely felt an upgrade staff morale wise and then going into the wellness center and definitely the employment center. That’s just for clients. That’s their area, so it was really great to see it get revamped in the renovations. It was beautiful walking in Monday morning.”