Doors are far from the only thing recycled
by Virginia Lindauer Simmon
Tom Longstreth has been at the helm of ReSOURCE: A Nonprofit Community Enterprise Inc. since 1996, when the organization had one location, eight staffers, and a budget of $300,000. Today, the staff numbers around 68 in five locations and the budget is $5 million.
Tom Longstreth talks fast.
He has to if he wants to cover, in one interview, the broad range of programs offered through ReSOURCE, the Burlington nonprofit he runs. Many Vermonters still think of it as ReCycle North where they donate unneeded household goods, some in need of repair, to be sold to needy residents at the organization’s store on Pine Street in Burlington.
It would take at least three stories this length to fully cover the work of this many-layered organization; our story concentrates on Longstreth and the ReSOURCE programs related to construction. (For context, see the timeline in the sidebar.)
Longstreth’s enthusiasm pervades the organization he was hired to lead in 1996. His was the only administrative position back then, when there were eight staffers, one building, and a $300,000 annual budget. Now there are five locations, a $5 million annual budget, and 71 staffers, “including seven full-time Americorps members, one Americorps VISTA volunteer, and around 30 trainees on the payroll,” he says.
ReSOURCE’s five locations include two in Burlington: 266 Pine St. houses the offices and the household goods store; across the street at 339, in the former Burlington Public Works building, is the building material store where materials secured by the organization’s deconstruction program are stored and displayed.
James Brown Drive in Williston is the site of the large-appliance repair and reuse operation. Barre, where ReSOURCE has bought and is rehabbing a 13,000-square-foot, 1898 former Beck & Beck Granite shed — the only space it owns — offered the opportunity to set up services in central Vermont, as well as a chance to expand its YouthBuild program.
And last November, the Lamoille Solid Waste District and the United Way of Lamoille County approached ReSOURCE about bringing its building material and household goods services to Morrisville.
“Both Barre and Morrisville are following a model that combines building materials and household goods,” Longstreth says. “That is the model we think is the most efficient.”
Tom Connors, CFO at Vermont Housing Finance Agency and a ReSOURCE board member for almost 12 years, echoes the sentiments of many who have encountered Longstreth. “Maybe you know his education,” he says. “To me, he could be working anywhere for a lot more money. I always have the fear that he’ll decide to do something different.”
Longstreth’s background might have perfectly prepared him to stick around. “My whole background has really been in job training,” he says, “preparing and helping low-income, disadvantaged people become self-sufficient and gain new opportunities. My grandparents were Quakers. I think there’s a deep vein of social conscience and involvement in the peace movement and social justice that goes through my family.”
He grew up in New York City, but had early ties to Vermont through relatives who have been here a long time. “My Uncle Peter was headmaster of Stratton Mountain School,” he says. “In fact, Peter was headmaster the year that my, now, wife, Julie, attended the school. He died the year before we were married.”
Longstreth entered Dartmouth College, graduating in 1989 with a history degree. He met Julie “for the first time” at Moosilauke Ravine Lodge in New Hampshire, where he was skiing for Dartmouth and she was skiing for Middlebury College, but they lost contact.
The summer after graduation, he took a job with the New Hampshire Conservation Corps, “running a trail crew the kids called Hoods in the Woods,” he says with a laugh. “It was a wilderness program for young men and women from low-income families who needed a job and work experience and, in fact, some of them did have past involvement with corrections.”
Longstreth spent a year abroad, traveling through Central and South America, eventually to Chile, teaching English. “I worked in Chile part time for three months and was running out of money,” he says. “I decided it was time to come home and managed to get a ride on a freighter that came through the Panama Canal to Philadelphia.”
He went to Washington, D.C., thinking he might enjoy legislative policy, but after interning for a congressman, realized he didn’t find the work fulfilling. Longstreth returned to Vermont and was hired by the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps where, from 1990 to ’94, he served as operations director.
He spent the next two years earning his master’s degree in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He and Julie reconnected through mutual friends in Hanover, N.H., when both were home on break from graduate studies.
In 1996, he was hired by ReCycle North and, in the years since, has applied his creativity and seemingly boundless energy to improving the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of people.
Many of the programs generate income for the organization. For example, the deconstruction service is provided by a professional crew that does salvage, creating “an alternative to ‘crunch and dump,’ where an excavator goes out with a big claw,” says Longstreth. “In a best case, we might be able to reuse 80 percent of a building.”
This led to the launch in 2001 of the building material store, which sells this salvaged material to the public and gives it away, through the organization’s poverty relief program, to people who need to do rebuilding and construction. Some of the materials are available for use making Waste-Not-Products, new items for sale on consignment.
“This program teaches people carpentry skills while building things,” says Longstreth, “creating opportunity out of something that would otherwise be thrown out.” These might be tables or bird houses or cutting boards made from old boards or salvaged lumber. A craft consignment program invites people who create art or crafts made of at least 40 percent reused materials to have their works displayed and sold in the store. ReSOURCE keeps a commission, and gives the artists a 10 to 20 percent discount on materials they use from ReSOURCE (or in exchange for teaching a workshop).
Working with Brandthropology, in 2009, ReCycle North changed its official name to ReSOURCE: A Nonprofit Community Enterprise, and defined its five major programs as ReTRAIN, RePAIR, ReLIEF, ReSTORE, and ReBUILD. “Annually, we train more than 100 people in one of our three training areas,” says Longstreth.
The three training areas — apprentice-style, YouthBuild, and Work Experience — serve individuals who need new skills and an opportunity to succeed. Apprentice-style training is the oldest program, says Longstreth. “Although it’s not a true apprenticeship, trainees are getting a stipend for doing productive work.”
Participants receive hands-on training, combined with classroom learning — “a curriculum we call our PPD (personal and professional development),” he says. Longstreth teaches a few classes in order to maintain a connection to the trainees and get to know them, “to be able to support their development, learning, and, ultimately, job placement.”
Apprentice-style training has four technical areas: major appliance repair (ReSOURCE is the only place in the state for this), computer repair and networking, retail management, and office administration. Training varies from six to 12 months depending on the program.
Certification is a consistent goal of these programs. “Most of the trainees in appliance training find jobs as appliance technicians, but there is also a pathway to becoming an HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) technician. Interested trainees follow the normal appliance training and obtain certifications that apply to both fields — LP and natural gas, refrigeration — and then are placed with an outside HVAC employer to finish training.”
YouthBuild, the second of the three training areas, is a 10-month program for 16- to 24-year-old high school dropouts interested in getting into the construction industry. It became part of ReSOURCE in 2004 and provided the inspiration for the deconstruction program. YouthBuild trainees divide their time, half in the classroom finishing the high school degree and half on a job site.
Most of Longstreth’s spare time is spent with Julie and their three children in West Bolton. “I run and bike and cross-country ski whenever I can. We heat our house and hot water with wood, so I do a lot of wood-splitting,” he says.
There seems to be little doubt that his ethos is contagious; board members, staff, and trainees alike appear to share his enthusiasm.
Steve Conant, the owner of Conant Metal and Light, a longtime board member, and the organization’s landlord at its Burlington headquarters, praises Longstreth’s “love for mankind, education, and the environment. Tom uses his own advanced education, practical experience, and keen business know-how to improve the world in ways that inspire others to do the same.” •
1995: Moved to current Burlington location; opened Fix-it shop (now small appliance RePAIR)
1996: Apprentice-style training program created to serve homeless trainees. Tom Longstreth hired as ED
1997: Customer service/retail management apprentice-style training program added. Essential Household goods program formalized (now ReLIEF program)
1998: Began training Reach-Up participants. Launched apprentice-style computer repair and office training programs
2001: Opened building material center and began to offer deconstruction services
2004: Adopted YouthBuild from Youth Building for the Future Inc. after the nonprofit lost its federal funding and was forced to dissolve; launched Waste-Not-Products
2007: Learn, Earn, and Prosper (LEAP) starts first summer program
2008: Large appliance operation moved to Williston; YouthBuild launched weatherization service and training; began expansion of operations to Barre.
2009: Changed name to ReSOURCE: A Nonprofit Community Enterprise. Five major programs were defined: ReTRAIN, RePAIR, ReLIEF, ReSTORE, and ReBUILD. YouthBuild Barre is launched
2011: Capital campaign launched to raise funds for the Barre expansion. Partnered with Sunward Solar to begin solar panel installation training and services in Barre. Took a significant role in flood relief.
2012: Expanded to Morrisville, opened the fourth retail location.
In 2012, ReSOURCE’s building material store sold or donated more than 1,512 doors, 1,279 windows, 63,539 linear feet of lumber, and 1,391 light fixtures and 378 sinks. Over 1,018 tons of materials were diverted from the landfill and put to good use.