ecoREHAB Seeks to Transform Houses and Develop Career Paths
Writer & Photographer / David Fennig
On a cold, snowy morning in January, the crew for ecoREHAB is already hard at work demolishing the front room at 615 North Jefferson Street. It’s an old, beautiful home, dilapidated from decades of abuse and neglect, and the crew is restoring it to its former glory and beyond. The hardwood scrollwork, the beautiful bannisters sweeping alongside the stairs, and the original wood floors covered in dust speak to the quality of craftsmanship that ecoREHAB is devoted to keeping from being lost to a landfill.
ecoREHAB is a nonprofit organization that invests in abandoned houses, and rehabilitates them into inviting and energy-efficient homes.
The organization is now based out of The Yard, a lumberyard that was built in the late 1800s in the historic west end. It was turned into an event space and building site for Ball State woodworking students and nonprofits, and is also used for assembling large art installations.
“The wood that built Muncie homes came through here,” says Jason Haney, executive director of ecoREHAB. “It’s encouraging that it will be put to good use again.”
Haney describes The Yard as more than just a cooperative work space. “It would be beneficial to have, for other nonprofits, shared resources all under one roof to create a nonprofit hub, and to have a place where we can host events,” Haney says.
The Yard consists of three acres, pole barns, the original lumberyard, an old house and lots of open space.
“We’ve already hosted an Oktoberfest,” Haney says. “For a first-time event we had 500 people show up. We had beer vendors from all over the state.”
Like the homes the team rehabilitates, The Yard wasn’t ready to be used when ecoREHAB moved in.
“It was like you were going through a jungle with a machete,” Haney says. “The railroad owned it and they were literally weeks away from doing away with all of it – just using a bulldozer and tearing it all down.”
At first Haney was just looking for a pole barn, but when the opportunity came along to save the lumberyard, he seized it. Haney has lots of plans for the future of the space and the organization.
“I started with ecoREHAB in the fall of ’19,” Haney says. “I was with Habitat for Humanity for about 10 years. I ended up being the executive director for Hamilton County and we merged with Indianapolis. I’m from Muncie so I really wanted to do something that impacted Muncie locally.”
When he took over leadership at ecoREHAB, the nonprofit went from taking 14 months to finish a project, to finishing a project in five to six months. It’s about more than just saving houses for Haney. It’s about people.
“We run a program called STEP – Skilled Trades Education Program,” Haney says. “That was our pilot. We were one of 25 organizations nationwide to get a YouthBuild grant, which allowed us to add many more layers to the STEP program.”
The program focuses on giving at-risk students, many of whom never finished high school, opportunities to be exposed to a variety of jobs, earn their high school equivalency certification and build careers in profitable trades.
“It’s meaningful work,” Haney says. “That’s what we preach to our guys. You can make good money doing construction work and you’re doing work every day that benefits someone. The dollar amount, the economic impact is one thing. The social impact that it has on these students is immeasurable.”
ecoREHAB is located at 723 South Council Street in Muncie. They can be found online at ecorehab.org, and reached by phone at 765-749-4115.