Businesses' miracles aid a nonprofit for disabled vets

Jim Helsel was reduced to hoping for a miracle, and they began arriving, one after another, from northern Nevada businesses.

For nearly a year, Helsel who's day job finds him as president of Helsel Construction Operations Inc. has been working with R.G. Smith of Nevada Property Maintenance to create a nonprofit to get disabled military veterans into homes.

Their work progressed at glacial speed. Money was running out, and donors were few.

"Each month, we were shoveling some of our money into it," says Smith. "But we were about shoveled out."

Ready to move the organization's files into a storage unit and its office into Helsel's home, the Project Compassion organizers took their best shot at a miracle an ad on Craigslist that sought free office space.

The miracle arrived. Desiderio Properties of Reno offered a rent-free office to Project Compassion for the rest of 2010. That's time, Smith and Helsel figure, to get the nonprofit firmly on the ground and allow them to get some grant requests into the pipeline.

Even as they were moving into the new office, another miracle arrived.

Linda Collins, a Reno real estate broker who serves on the Project Compassion board, heard that real estate developer Taylor Morrison planned to sell furnishings from two model homes at its Estrella project in Sparks.

She worked to create an auction of the furnishings that would benefit Project Compassion and the SPCA. A Reno moving company, All the Right Moves, offered to move large furniture items for buyers in exchange for a $50 donation to Project Compassion.

In four hours, the nonprofit raised nearly $11,000.

And the final miracle? The organization found its first qualified disabled veteran to qualify in its program a big step, Smith says, toward showing the concept works.

Project Compassion seeks donations of foreclosed homes from lenders. It will make them available at a cost of $500 a month to disabled veterans who agree to help fix up homes for other disabled veterans.

Participating veterans will commit to living in the homes for five years. After that time which requires total payments of $30,000 they'll be given ownership of the property.

Smith has acknowledged that the toughest part is yet to come convincing financial institutions to donate homes they've taken back through foreclosure. He says lenders can get a tax deduction and a windfall of good publicity through a donation, and they can get a liability off their books.

The group also is beginning to seek donations from individuals and businesses to help fund homes for disabled veterans who can't meet the $24,000 annual income requirement for participation in Project Compassion's original program.

The Veterans Administration helps identify possible participants in the program.


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