The Sustainability InstituteThe Sustainability Institute

Category : Veterans

By Katherine Richards

Veteran – Ken, Marines


Marines, 1983-1989

Trying to encapsulate what exactly sets the Sustainability Institute apart from other organizations seems simple yet indescribable. In a single moment, experienced and expressed by Corps member Ken, the essence of the Sustainability Institute comes to life.

After his years of service in the Marines, from 1983 to 1989, Ken transitioned into a few different jobs upon return. He worked for a computer company, in a management position, retail, and security until through the Veteran’s Association he discovered the Sustainability Institute. Thus far, Ken has been able to experience and learn about weatherization, energy conservation, and teamwork. What he values the most, however, is the relationship between corps member and homeowner that exists on a personal level. At the heart of what makes the Sustainability Institute so unique, this relationship, as described by Ken, is one that is “mutually beneficial”. Instead of the typical repair man/woman sent from a generic, corporate-sized organization to simply “get in and get out”, the Sustainability Institute functions through a interdependent program that engages both parties. On a microscale, this process bears a great deal of similarities to the process of development on a global scale. Sustainability Institute’s approach embodies the essence of the old saying, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. One of the biggest flaws with the “get in and get out” approach is that it usually yields only a short term solution. Furthermore, not only are Corps members at SI trained in how to weatherize a house, they are educated on why it’s important and what purpose it serves. Thus, the Corps members are prepared to keep homeowners engaged in the process, informing them on what they are doing and why. This way, if an issue were to arise in the future, homeowners would be equipped with the knowledge they need to solve the problem and sustain the solution.

Now, here is that moment you’ve all been waiting for. Ken recalls, “there was one day where I didn’t show up to work because I was sick. When I returned the next day, the homeowner asked how I was feeling, which means that he noticed I wasn’t at the house that day.” The fact that the homeowner realized Ken wasn’t on site one day illustrates a perfect example of what exactly sets the Sustainability Institute uniquely apart; personal connection. It should come as no surprise that this part of working with the VCC is the one Ken values most because he is a firm believer in the importance of sustaining a healthy mind, body, and spirit. With a history as a bodybuilder, he has first-hand experience of how critical it is to maintain one’s health. Connecting with another individual may seem insignificant in the vast and complex scheme of the human body, but sustaining a personal connection can be tremendously impactful to the human spirit. Thus, for a single moment, the heart of the Sustainability Institute is exposed. By building sustainable homes, SI is in turn building sustainable lives.

By Katherine Richards

Veteran – Khadijah, Army


Army, 2001-2010

“My life is a blueprint for someone else’s.” Meet the woman of the hour, Khadijah.

Until she had her first son in 2011, Khadijah worked as a Food Service Inspector from 2001-2010. Balancing life with a new baby, in 2012 she began working for Charleston County School District as the Food Service Manager. With nine years of working for the Army under her belt, Khadijah is not not one to bruise easily. Her tough skin is what protected her and her kids when life got rocky. Khadijah was studying at ITT when it closed down, preventing her from finishing her degree. Followed by a brutal divorce and a period of homelessness, Khadijah sought help from the local organization One80 Place. Here, at a time she needed it most, she was introduced to the Sustainability Institute.

For Khadijah, the Sustainability Institute gave her hope. It gave her a platform for being sustainable, a way to support her three kids, and a new passion for design and construction. It gave her something to look forward to, and most importantly, it gave her an opportunity. With newly acquired skills and certifications such as the Duct and Envelope (DET) Certification, Khadijah is ready to take on the world. The Sustainability Institute gave Khadijah a helping hand to get on her feet, and now that she’s standing, there’s no stopping her from running. Quite truthfully it sounds like she’s planning a marathon as she described how her newfound passion for construction has blossomed into a dream to start her own design firm. And if you’re not already blown away by this wonder woman’s achievements, add to the list a unique passion for the art of “caulking”, a weatherization technique used for sealing a house. When the phrase “I just LOVE caulking!” arises in any conversation, you know it’s no ordinary person you’re talking to. Poetically aligned with her dreams of opening a design firm, Khadijah’s firm belief that her “life is a blueprint for someone else’s” embodies her truest passion; to help guide those who have faced the same challenges that she has. Khadijah’s time with the Sustainability Institute has empowered her to empower others. Now that’s powerful.

By Katherine Richards

Veteran – Monte, Air Force


Air Force, 2000-2004

From 2000-2004 Monte flew from Nebraska, to Texas, to Charleston on the wings of the Air Force. With the help of his Dad who had been in the army, Monte’s landing back into ground-level everyday life was a smooth one. He brought home new skills such as discipline, flexibility, and the tools he needed to be a structured individual. Monte took a job as a Verizon financial services representative and all of a sudden two years flew by. Feeling unfulfilled and confident in his abilities to do something more meaningful, a friend of Monte’s recommended he look into the Sustainability Institute.

Joining the Veteran Conservation Crew provided Monte with another option, an option that has helped him broaden his horizons, expand his network, and introduce him to new friends. Truly everything he has learned with the VCC has been a new skill him, and he’ll be walking out certified in those skills. Monte has found a fulfilling richness to helping individuals and giving back to the community. One of his favorite parts of the VCC has been interacting with his team where work is a place be productive but also have fun. Although it’s all fun and games until someone brings up the recent Super Bowl and it turns out some crew members are still healing from a fresh wound and in no way ready to discuss such a tender subject. But of course not only does his team enhance his experience but the homeowners and individuals whose lives he’s deeply impacting. As Monte delves into the job market he now has a new set of skills and certifications in his back pocket and a sense of confidence and ambition in his front. When asked about his overall experience and thoughts on the Sustainability Institute he simply responded with, “it’s a wonderful program”. Monte defines sustainability as consistency and the ability to keep a necessity. Fueled by his passion for life and his kids, the way Monte’s been going a steady 75mph down that road of success there’s no doubt he’ll be able to practice what he preaches.  

By Katherine Richards

Veteran – Daniel, Navy


Navy, 1986-1992

From the snowy state of Minnesota, Daniel’s service in the Navy brought him to the more temperate climate of Charleston. At the end of his service in 1992, Daniel, understandably, felt no particular sense of urgency to put back on his winter wear. After deciding to settle in Charleston, Daniel utilized the mechanical skills he acquired in the Navy to delve into the metal production industry. Feeling unfulfilled and unstable by the slew of temp jobs he took through an agency, Daniel knew he needed more. “There wasn’t a steady paycheck nor a steady life”. In a turn of fate and help from the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF), Daniel was introduced to the Sustainability Institute.

Returning back for a third term, he fits the description “Veteran” in every sense of the way. The VCC has helped Daniel rediscover his sense of responsibility and efficiency as he was motivated to “get to the workplace on time and get the job done effectively”. And it paid off. Six months ago Daniel was appointed as the Assistant Site Manager, and upon completion of his third term he plans jump back on the big yellow bus for technical school. To Daniel, sustainability constitutes “affordable costs and replenishable resources”. Aligned with his wholesome and modest nature, Daniel is passionate about the frequently overlooked fundamentals of life; “learning a good trade and creating a stable future”. In a sense, the Sustainability Institute paired with his role in the VCC have refueled a flame that has always existed within Daniel; ambition. Sustained as a replenishable resource, this flame has the infinite potential of powering a candle, a fire, or a nation. Small but mighty, one might say.

By Katherine Richards

Veteran – Marcella, Army


Army, 1982-2004

If there was a Golden Globe for community-involvement, the recipient without a doubt would be Marcella. As a trained medic, EMT, and the Safety and Occupational Health Manager for the Navy, she was back and forth between active duty and the reserves before her official retirement in 2004. Marcella happened upon the Sustainability Institute through a coincidental meeting at a yoga class with the Institute’s Development Associate, the lovely Miss Katherine Westmoreland Richards. One conversation later Marcella decided to get her own house retrofitted. After much involvement and fascination with the process, she decided to join the VCC. The VCC is an addition to unimaginably extensive list of things she’s involved in, the kind of list that makes you feel guilty for indulging in a dash of TV. Because while you’re catching up on Season 6 of The Office, Marcella is probably working the Citizen Information Line for the Red Cross, volunteering for the Lowcountry Emergency Response Team, or perhaps upholding her duties as Emergency Response Chairperson for her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. Just to name a few.

As one could imagine, Marcella can unquestionably be described as a social butterfly. Not only do her magnificently large wings help her to bring warmth and life to every flower she visits, they make her a well-connected woman. In the limited time she’s been working as a member of the VCC, only once has she worked on a house where she didn’t personally know the homeowners. Marcella passionately believes in the power of taking a few minutes at the start of each project to establish a relationship between the corps members and the homeowner. And the result? “You can physically see them exhale and relax”. This simple yet immensely impactful act embodies the Sustainability Institute’s very existence; the ability to create the personal connection that a larger corporate company cannot. Marcella has dedicated her life to sharing; whether it be resources, time, talent, or knowledge. Furthermore, she is passionate about sharing sustainably, which she defines as being able “to maintain and use more environmentally conscious materials”. At the end of the day, the engine behind the wonder woman more commonly known as Marcella, is her drive to “contribute meaningfully to the community”.  

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