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November '19

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rv-pro.com November 2019 • RV PRO • 115 For this reason, she says, the nonprofit strives to do all it can to keep veterans in their homes. This may be as simple as adding grab bars to the bathrooms and higher/comfort height toilets. Or, it may involve larger adaptations, such as installing wheelchair ramps to the front and back of their homes, lowering the countertops and making openings wheel- chair accessible, making upper shelving that can be lowered so that they can access dishware, and adding pot fillers to minimize/avoid hot water burns. Aside from taking care of the homes and RVs, Adapt A Vet strives to meet the emotional and financial needs of veterans and their families. This includes helping them find/get additional financial assis- tance from government or other agen- cies, much-needed health care, helping with wedding planning or funerals, and much more. Life Before Adapt A Vet Prior to launching Adapt a Vet, Mike Cotugno had been in the building industry for 38 years and owned and ran his own construction company, MJC & Associates, where his wife also worked. He retired from his company six months before the nonprofit opened its doors to devote his time fully to the cause, while his wife subsequently formed her own business to continue serving key clients. Getting the nonprofit started was not an easy task, according to the couple. Much of the process involved filling out a mountain of paperwork. In order to use the word "vet" in their organization's name, they had to get permission from the local VFW. The Cotugnos also work hard to stretch the tight funds annually, part- nering with as many organizations as pos- sible to get donated labor and materials or to get materials at discounted rates. They even barter their services in return for needed supplies or RVs. They also partner with a number of organizations, such as Home Depot, and a host of mechanical, electrical and plumbing contractors to make these adaptations happen. The couple say they have been able to make adaptations or renovations in as little as 30 days, but other projects may take three or four months, depending on the size and scope of the work needed and the availability of funds. Their work was featured on ABC's "Extreme Makeover Home Edition in 2012", where they participated in building a home for a retired military veteran in 108 days. "We did learn a few tricks here and there," Mike Cotugno says. "We were the lead builder under Gordon Hartman. It was a well-orchestrated project." Funding is Always a Challenge Adapt a Vet gets many applications from veterans and/or their families. The majority of them get approved, but it might take some time before the charity can help them due to lack of funding. Currently, Adapt A Vet has 50 vet- erans in the pipeline, waiting to receive assistance. About 85 percent of the applications the nonprofit received are for bathroom renovations – mainly removing the bathtub and putting in roll-in showers and widening the doorway to the bath- room, according to the Cotugnos. Mike Cotugno says it typically costs between $8,000 to $10,000 to adapt a bathroom. The cost more than doubles ($20,000 to $25,000) for kitchen adapta- tions. To put this into perspective, doing 30 bathroom remodels about $10,000 apiece would run about $300,000. "It just depends on how much we have at that time that donors have provided by way of product," Mike Cotugno says. "We don't pay retail prices for anything. Anything that we buy is typically wholesale." Earlier this year, the nonprofit set its budget at about $800,000 but had raised less than half that amount. If the nonprofit can raise the remaining amount, Cotugno says, the nonprofit should be able to knock out the majority of its backlog. Of course, funding is always an issue. The organization must compete locally with hundreds of nonprofit organiza- tions within its own backyard in Bexar County, not mention those seeking gov- ernment assistance at the national level. To try and offset costs, Adapt A Vet hosts an annual fundraiser. It also participates in fundraising events for other organizations, which increases its own visibility. Though none of Adapt a Vet's proj- ects in the pipeline are for RVs, the non- profit does plan to purchase five more RV trailers with money donated from the Rebuild Texas Foundation. The Cotugnos recently received the funds, which trickled down through the Port Aransas Cham- ber's New Day in Port A Fund. As funds are tight, the couple have allocated a strict $14,000 budget for each RV, which includes title transfer, moving fees and renovations/ adapta- tions. They generally purchase older RVs to stay within budget. They also stock the RVs with pots, pans, silverware, plates and appliances. "It's stocked with food – everything they need. They can walk in and start living their life again," Roxann Cotugno says. Seeking to Expand in Size & Scope Adapt a Vet continues to look for ways to do more beyond its original 13 County Alamo Region boundary. It is currently having discussions with Home Depot about possibly developing a program to help corporations identify a PTSD event and how to diffuse it. The program will be designed for companies who employ or want to hire veterans. Additionally, the nonprofit started a national campaign last year to spread the word about its services and it recently participated in an home adaptation project in Oklahoma. "The furthest we've gone is Wis- consin," Mike Cotugno says. "We are reaching out and people have reached out to us. The need is so great that we've got to spread our wings." As part of its expansion strategy, Adapt a Vet has also done radio campaigns in several states. Having volunteers and the right staff at the ready, Mike Cotugno says, will allow Adapt A Vet to do more. "Obviously, Roxann and I can't do it all," he says. "It's a big undertaking, but it's much needed, too."

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