Salute to service: How GreenCare for Troops is giving back to military families in need

November 8, 2017 -  By
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Who will mow the lawn? Who’s going to shovel the driveway and the sidewalk in the winter? Last year, Carla Nichols asked these questions, among many others, as her husband, Jon, a technical sergeant in the Air Force, prepared for his deployment to Germany.

Carla Nichols was particularly concerned because, with a full-job time as a physical therapist assistant, a young daughter and a dog to keep her busy, she had also recently discovered she was pregnant with her second child. Suddenly, yardwork plummeted down her list of priorities.

GreenCare for Troops (GCFT) came to the rescue for the Nichols family. The national program provides free lawn care, landscape and snow removal for the families of deployed military personnel for the duration of their service period, which is typically nine to 12 months. In the case of multiple deployments, families can sign up for every deployment. GCFT also provides the same free services for post-9/11 veterans with a service-connected disability for a maximum of two years.

Carla Nichols discovered GCFT through the Airmen & Family Readiness Center at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Neb. The liaison at the center enrolled Carla Nichols in the program as part of her husband’s deployment package, and a few days later, she was matched with Sun Valley Landscaping. She contacted the company to schedule services, and her lawn was mowed and leaves removed as scheduled.

It made a huge difference in her new daily routine. “It was extremely helpful,” says Carla Nichols. “My husband has been deployed before and this was the first time I had this service. I had a 2-year-old at the time, I was pregnant and working a full-time job. Doing yardwork in the small amount of time that I had was not going to be the easiest thing. It was a lifesaver.”

From the ground up

Since GCFT launched in 2006, more than 11,000 military families and disabled veterans nationwide have registered to receive services. The project’s volunteer base has grown to 6,000 lawn and landscape professionals in all 50 states who have provided upwards of $8 million worth of services to military families.

GCFT is managed by Project EverGreen, a Cleveland-based national nonprofit aimed at creating, renovating and revitalizing green spaces, and educating the public about their importance. Project EverGreen’s mission is to “bring people together to make a difference in how our yards, parks and communities create a greener, healthier, cooler Earth.”

As a business owner in a military community, Bill Lillie sees his fair share of families and disabled veterans dealing with hard times—trying to juggle basic daily tasks. As a longtime volunteer for GreenCare for Troops, he wants to help take lawn care off that mile-long list. Click here to learn more.

Executive Director Cindy Code says that GCFT fits into this mission by maintaining green spaces, while having the added benefit of helping military families. “Landscape contractors love working outside, so it’s a good way to give back and share the gift of green space with those in the military,” says Code. “It’s a small thing that we in this industry can do to give back.”

Den Gardner is a member of Project EverGreen’s board and is its former executive director. Gardner helped transition the organization from its original name, EverGreen Foundation, which was a legacy group from the Professional Lawn Care Association of America in 2002, and he managed it from 2003 to 2010. In 2004, the foundation became Project EverGreen. Gardner recalls that the seeds for GCFT were planted in 2006, when Phil Fogarty, a master franchisor at Weed Man Lawn Care in Euclid, Ohio, mentioned to Gardner that his company started offering free lawn care services for families whose primary breadwinner was deployed overseas.

Fogarty wondered if it was possible to turn this idea into a larger service project. Gardner returned to the Project EverGreen offices, then located in Minnesota, and began to work with the board and his staff to create GreenCare for Troops. He hired a part-time manager to handle the day-to-day operations of the initiative with financial support from Cub Cadet.

Today, Nufarm, the presenting partner, and The Toro Co., the platinum partner, provide funding for the program.

SnowCare for Troops was added to the project in 2010, and since its creation, more than 5,000 families and veterans have registered to receive snow and ice removal from 1,500 contractor volunteers. Boss Snowplow is a supporting partner of SnowCare for Troops.

The efforts of Project EverGreen and GreenCare for Troops have not gone unnoticed. In 2012, through the Joining Forces Community Challenge, the White House recognized Project EverGreen and the work of GCFT as one of the top 20 volunteer military programs in the U.S.

Growing GreenCare

Despite its nationwide reach, GCFT is a small operation. Until recently it was run by Program Manager Ki Matsko along with Code in her role as executive director. “The volunteers absorb everything—the gas, labor, supplies—so I think it’s critical to develop relationships,” says Matsko, who has been with the organization for three years and has her own military connection: Her oldest son is a cadet at West Point.

With 6,000 volunteers, it seems impossible, but Matsko does her best to stay in contact with each volunteer. “It keeps them connected to Project EverGreen, which keeps them wanting to take on more, which is huge for us,” she says.

Code says it’s not easy to accomplish the organization’s goals with a small crew. She estimates that for the last few years, GCFT has averaged a thousand families matched per year, but “the biggest priority is to match more military families—to provide more green services to as many families as possible,” she says.

For business owners and individuals alike, part of the difficulty of beginning a volunteer activity might be getting over the initial intimidation. Paul Fraynd, co-owner of Sun Valley Landscaping in Omaha, Neb., has some useful advice. “Just start,” he recommends. Click here to learn more.

A recent donation from Nufarm will go a long way to help those efforts. In August, Nufarm announced it was donating $150,000 to the program. Sean Casey, Nufarm’s vice president of sales, turf & ornamental, is a member of Project EverGreen’s board.

“For as long as I’ve been involved with GreenCare for Troops, I’ve always thought that it’s a brand that had national reach and that everyone should be involved in it,” says Casey. “We were always struggling to meet budgets and get contributions. We were spending more time on trying to find money for the project than we were spending on the actual project.”

Though Nufarm was once a general supporter of Project EverGreen, this donation will go specifically to the GCFT initiative. GCFT is using the contribution to hire another staff member, Nici Trem, as well as expand volunteer recruitment and provide more communications support for military families registered for the program.

Beyond Nufarm’s donation, Casey is committed to supporting GCFT and helping build up its volunteer pool. “Sometimes, you find there’s a defensive side of the business, and you’re constantly explaining why you do what you do,” he says. “This is the feel-good side of the business. I firmly believe in the work they do.”

Wanting to bring that positive energy to his company, Casey introduced a challenge to his Nufarm sales team: help GCFT find more volunteers. His 21 turf and ornamental sales reps are now equipped with slide decks that outline the importance of GCFT. Other teams at Nufarm want to join in the effort and have requested those decks for their salespeople.

A valuable service

So how can a company get involved? What are the challenges of providing services for a military family or two? Matsko and Code both agree that the process for volunteering is simple by design, so volunteers can focus on taking care of families. See the sidebar at right for information on how you can get involved.

Carla Nichols, the military mother of two, wants volunteers to know, “It’s invaluable to the families of the deployed that receive those services.”

Troy Clogg’s father was a World War II veteran, and this fact drives his participation with GreenCare for Troops and other military nonprofits. Learn about his involvement with the program here.

Her husband, Jon, agrees. Before the Nichols family knew about GCFT, they were considering hiring a landscape company or enlisting friends and family to help. “It was a huge stress relief having this taken care of and knowing Carla wouldn’t have to do any manual labor (during her pregnancy),” he says.

Military spouses are “fiercely independent, and we don’t want to worry the deployed spouse,” says Carla Nichols. “Knowing that it was a done deal, it’s easier for us to accept, and we can take care of other things. Just knowing that you’ve helped a family is more than you could ever ask for. There’s no question about that when you spend a half hour sending a crew out.”

Considering becoming a volunteer for GreenCare for Troops or SnowCare for Troops? Here’s what you can expect from the process.

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Abby Hart

About the Author:

Abby Hart is the managing editor of Landscape Management. A native Clevelander, she spent 10 years in Chicago, where she was operations manager of a global hospitality consultancy. She also worked as managing editor of Illumine, a health and wellness magazine; and a marketing specialist for B2B publications. Abby has a degree in journalism from Boston University’s College of Communication.

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