Closed bases give back to communities in a variety of ways

  • Published
  • By Scott Johnston
  • Air Force Civil Engineer Center

A big unexpected outcome of base closure across the country has been the influx of charitable organizations now operating on closed Air Force bases, providing aide to the very communities most impacted by base closure. Housing for the homeless, welfare to work programs and other nonprofit organizations all have a big presence at installations closed as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Act.

The Air Force Civil Engineer Center is responsible for completing environmental remediation and transfer of 40 former Air Force installations across the United States under the BRAC program. Since the first BRAC in 1988, the Air Force has transferred more than 116 square miles of land (an area twice the size of Washington, D.C.) to local communities for public use.

One example of how the land of former Air Force bases is benefiting local communities is Alma Santos.

For more than a decade Santos held tight to her dream of one day having a home to call her own.

At times it seemed that her family of two would never escape what had become a nomadic lifestyle - moving from shelters to low-income apartments then back again. But through it all she never lost hope.

"I was constantly knocking on the doors of different places, trying to find different ways to survive," said Santos. "Every once in a while someone would ask me what I wished for, what I really wanted. My answer was always the same - a home."

Santos and her son, Jaime, were living in a low income apartment in the summer of 2011 when her landlord raised the rent. Unable to afford it, she was forced to move back into a shelter. With nowhere else to turn, Santos learned about Carrfour Supportive Housing, one of the largest providers of permanent housing and supportive services for homeless families in Miami, Fla.

Carrfour operates the Verde Gardens Supportive Housing community in south Miami Dade County and it was there, on 50 acres of the former Homestead Air Force Base, that Santos realized that dream.

"Now I have two full baths and my Jaime has his own room," said Santo. "But most importantly, my dream has come true - we have a place to call home."

Verde Gardens is made up of 145 town homes where formerly homeless families can live permanently providing they pay 30 percent of their income on rent.

The community is also home to a 22-acre organic farm and farmers' market co-operated by residents, who can grow their own crops and sell them at the farmer's market for a weekly profit. There are plans to eventually become certified organic and add a fish farm and be able to sell meat.

"Our goal is that the residents of Verde Gardens will not only participate, but eventually take over running the farm," said Elena Naranjo, a program manager for the non-profit organization Earth Learning, which oversees the program. "Our mission here is to develop the farm and operate the market until they are able to completely integrate themselves into the farm and market. It'll be their market and their farm."

All across America closed Air Force bases are giving back to their communities in a wide variety of ways. From supportive housing communities like Verde Gardens, to anti-hunger organizations to disaster relief, Air Force bases closed by Base Realignment and Closure are now home to many unique and successful reuse opportunities and programs.

In addition to organizations like the Verde Gardens Supportive Housing community many other organizations have taken advantage of these property transfers.
Generations of Hope
Chanute Air Force Base - Rantoul, Ill.
Located in a housing development that was once part of Chanute Air Force Base, Generations of Hope at Hope Meadows is another example of former base property being put to good use.

A portion of the former base has been converted into an innovative residential community consisting of a five-block, small-town, intergenerational neighborhood where children adopted from foster care find permanent homes.

Adults who are willing and able to adopt children out of foster care and seniors who want to volunteer their time to better the lives of a child are eligible to live in the community. All parents that move into Hope Meadows must have the intention of adopting children.

Currently there are 38 children living at Generations of Hope. They range in age from 1 to 18 years. Some are biological children, some are already adopted and some are in the process of being adopted.

The senior residents volunteer at least six hours a week to tutor the children, help the families or help in the running of the community. During an average week, Hope Meadows seniors contribute 274 hours of volunteer services to the community.

"It's a terrific community because we have a lot of seniors that come here, most of them retired, who really have a lot to give," said Elaine Gehrman, executive director at Hope Meadows. "We have a lot of former teachers, former librarians and the kids truly benefit because the kids have this built-in supportive community."

The Hunger Task Force
General Mitchell Air Reserve Station - Milwaukee, Wis.
Founded in 1974, the Hunger Task Force is Wisconsin's premier anti-hunger organization and currently occupies a warehouse once used by the former General Mitchell Air Reserve Station.

The food bank collects and distributes emergency food to a targeted network of qualified charities that serve the homeless and less fortunate in Milwaukee County. Hunger Task Force has been providing services to the local community for more than 32 years and currently handles approximately 8.3 million pounds of government purchased and donated food each year.

"They do a great job of providing food to those less fortunate" said Ted Torcevia, airport business manager at the General Mitchell International Airport "They keep the warehouse just chalk full of donated food goods and they've really made a difference in the community."

McClellan Air Force Base - Sacramento, Calif.
The AmeriCorps Pacific Region Campus makes its home at the former McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento, Calif. It is one of only five such campuses in the nation and the only one on the West Coast. Young people 18 to 24 years old are part of the National Civilian Conservation Corps, an AmeriCorps program that includes specialized training to conduct community service and disaster response services.

Recently crews stationed at McClellan returned from New York and New Jersey where they helped clean up the mess left behind by Hurricane Sandy. For most of the crews, it was their first major deployment in their 10 months of service after completing their initial training at the Sacramento campus.

All across the nation BRAC bases like McClellan have become havens for service-based community organizations like AmeriCorps.

"It's been great to be here," said Jose Phillips, Regional Director at AmeriCorps Sacramento campus. "This facility has all the amenities and it's perfect for what we need. It was a natural fit for us."

As active-duty bases, each of these facilities were major contributors at a local and national level. Now, as these former installations evolve from their military pasts, many unique and successful reuse opportunities and programs are taking place, giving back to their communities in a wide variety of ways.