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Repairing Homes + Building Relationships with Bob Beggs

Podcast published: April 19, 2024

We spend time in conversation with Bob Beggs, Executive Director of Good Works, Inc. Good Works is a Christian nonprofit organization working to transform lives by repairing homes for low-income families and sharing the hope that Bob, his colleagues, and teams of volunteers have found in Jesus Christ. We talk about the housing challenges that low-income families face in Chester County – and how Good Works aims to address those challenges by interweaving care for homes with care for people.


Good Works, Inc.

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NOTE: The Help Book mentioned in this episode is no longer being produced.

Liam Dempsey: Welcome to Start Local, where we talk with business owners, leaders of nonprofits, and other members of our community focused on doing business in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. Each episode will provide insight into the local business scene and tell you about opportunities to connect with and support businesses and nonprofits in your local area.

Joe Casabona: The Southern Chester County Chamber of Commerce promotes the trade commerce industry and sustainable economic development while supporting a diverse and growing marketplace. The Chamber is proud to partner with the Start Local podcast to raise the profile of businesses and nonprofits throughout Chester County. Learn more about the chamber at [scccc.com]. That’s [scccc.com]

Erik Gudmundson: Welcome to Start Local, where we connect with local leaders to support local businesses and nonprofits in and around Chester County, Pennsylvania. I am Erik Gudmundson, and I am here with my, today with my cohost, Liam Dempsey. Liam, how are you doing today?

Liam Dempsey: I am very good today. Very good, sir. Thank you. Thank you.

Erik Gudmundson: All right. Well, we definitely wanna remind people that they should go to the [startlocal.co] website and sign up for updates so we can keep you informed on anything that’s happening new with the show and new and exciting guests that are coming up on the schedule.

Liam Dempsey: Absolutely. That’s a great way to make sure that, you know, as soon as we publish an episode. The other thing I would recommend is that folks find us on LinkedIn, Start Local podcast, and follow us there because we have a lot more interaction with our audience and our guests, Erik and I and Joe Casabona. So do both and you’ll be happy, we hope.

Erik Gudmundson: No. No happiness is guaranteed, but we’ll finish it with that.

Liam Dempsey: Of course. Of course. We can’t. No happiness guarantee.

Erik Gudmundson: We can at least try to enhance your happiness. Well, today, we’re in this Podcast studio with Bob Beggs. Bob is the Executive Director of Good Works. Good Works is a Christian nonprofit organization that works to transform lives by repairing homes for low-income families and sharing the hope that they have found in Jesus Christ. Bob, welcome to the Start Local podcast.

Bob Beggs: Thank you so much. It’s an honor to be here.

Erik Gudmundson: From several of our recent guests, we’ve heard about a lack of low-income housing in Chester County. What housing challenges do you see at Good Works? And can you speak to how your organization is looking to meet those challenges?

Bob Beggs: Chester County is the wealthiest county in Pennsylvania. Most people don’t know that. And, it’s a little hard to believe that 6% of our neighbors are living at or below the federal poverty level. That’s about 30,000 people who are at or below the federal poverty level. And housing is an essential need for everyone. Can you imagine not having our home, or having a home that is actually putting you in danger, as you wake up every morning? 

The issue in Chester County is well known. If you’ve ever gone out to try to buy a home in Chester County, you’re not gonna touch anything for under a quarter $1,000,000. And, the county commissioners know it, everyone knows it, and plans are being developed to try to address the problem. But we do have a broad population of people living in substandard housing in this county, and that’s what we are working to address.

Liam Dempsey: Bob. I wanna, I wanna talk to you about the houses that you work on. Can you tell us a little bit about the conditions of the homes that you typically fix-up for folks? And I’m using fix-up in a general term. Talk us through that. What are the state of the houses and what sort of fixes and updates do you take care of? Do you handle?

Bob Beggs: Yeah. Yes, Liam. Good question. When I started volunteering with Good Works back in 1991, I remember really being taken back when I went to a home in Coatesville, where there were, when I walked in, there was no heat, and there were milk cartons, those plastic milk cartons just lining the entire kitchen. And I figured they just needed to be disposed of, but the homeowner explained to me that every morning, they walked down to the Brandywine River, and they fill those milk cartons with water so that they can cook their food, that so they have water to drink, so that they can flush their toilet. And they had been living that way for years and never thought that their situation would change. It is not uncommon for us to go into a home that has no heat, that has no water, that has limited electricity. We have emergency calls, like trees falling on homes like crush you know, crushing the roof.

And, the homeowners do not have the funds to be able to make those repairs, nor would they have homeowner insurance that would cover that. And so it’s striking the contrast between the middle and upper-income homes that you see throughout this county, and those homes that most people don’t even know exist. They’re kind of hidden from view, but as I said, there are a lot of families living in truly utter poverty.

Erik Gudmundson: The kinds of repairs you’re describing are not inexpensive by any stretch of imagination. And your organization was awarded $2,700,000 recently to administer the Chester County Whole Home Repairs Program in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity of Chester County, Good Neighbors Home Repair, and Housing Partnership of Chester County. That’s an impressive accomplishment. So I’m wondering if you could tell us what’s unique or innovative about the collaboration being funded through this grant.

Bob Beggs: It truly is unique for this county, and I think it will be a model for other counties in the future. The whole home repair program provides us with funding for we will be repairing with that funding over 150 homes. And that’s more than, I would say, other counties that would be relying on contractors to do the work. We have the benefit as nonprofit organizations, mostly volunteer-based, that can provide a phenomenal return on investment for those funds. 

It’s unique that the collaboration, we called it the whole Home Repair Program Coalition. It’s the first time that Habitat for Humanity, Good Neighbors in Southern Chester County, and Good Works in central that covers central Northern Chester County really got together and put a plan together on how we would manage covering this entire county without competing with each other, without stepping on each other’s feet. And when we first came up with the idea, the first thing we did was establish a set of team ground rules. How was this coalition going to operate? What areas was Good Neighbors gonna cover? What areas were Good Works going to cover, and it made really good sense because we split how we were going to operate based on how we operate today. So that once the program is over, it’s going to be seamless to continue supporting those families beyond whole home repair. And that was unique. And so far, we are, what, 4 months into it, and it’s going really well.

Erik Gudmundson: That’s an impressive collaboration and even more impressive that you are able to, you know, not step on each other’s toes and really serve the population that’s needed in the most efficient way possible. How else are you funded aside from this grant? I imagine you have a number of sources of funding.

Bob Beggs: Good Works is blessed to have a very diversified portfolio from an income perspective. The largest is individuals. That’s great because we have over 1000 individual donors that provide the majority of our, on average, $1,500,000 operation a year. 

We also receive funding from the county. Obviously, the whole home repair program makes up a bigger segment of our pie now, but we had other funding from the county as well as the state. We have about 10% of our funding comes from businesses in Chester County. 10% comes from local churches in Chester County, and then we hold a fundraising event once a year in November. And that typically raises about 200,000 of our annual budget.

And so, like I said, it’s a very diversified portfolio. The nice thing about it is if any of those sectors would go away for some reason, we are not gonna go out of business. We have a lot of levers we can pull to stay within our budget. Obviously, you just mentioned the whole home repair program being a big influx of funding.

By the way, that funding is intended to be spent over a 3-year period. And so we are able to, in the case of Good Works, we’ll be completing about 25 homes, just with Good Works, 25 homes each of those 3 years. And we may, depending on if there’s additional funding that comes from the state, from Harrisburg, we can ramp up and do more as needed.

Liam Dempsey: Bob, you’re aware that a few weeks ago, I spent a Saturday afternoon volunteering with your organization on a worksite. And I was working out of your coach full warehouse. And we spent the whole day, literally a whole day, 8 in the morning till 5 at night, 5:30 at night, helping fix the home of a local homeowner. And I gotta be honest, one of the things that really struck me about the experience was how hard I worked. I don’t mean that in a denigrating way. I don’t mean that in an overworked way. But I was there to work, and you folks were there too, in a good way, help make sure that I worked. It was fun. It was collaborative. It was enjoyable. But I worked. And we got about a 20-minute lunch, and it was a good lunch, and it was a warm lunch. But then it was back to work. That was a lot. And it wasn’t a volunteering experience that I was used to. I mean, that aside from the fact that I use power tools, which is always kind of an interesting afternoon. Little interesting. I was pleased to come home with all 10 figures. But tell me about, comment on the fact that your volunteers work so hard and so consistently and it’s constant. I don’t mean that there’s no joking, no silliness, and no fun, but there’s a job to be done, and the job has to get done. And it’s a priority. That was really, it struck me as quite profound. Can you comment on that?

Bob Beggs: Sure. Well, first, thank you for coming out and volunteering. And if you recall the weather, it was not a great day. It was cold, and it was rainy.

Liam Dempsey: I’m still warming up.

Bob Beggs: Yeah. But that is the reality of the work we do. We work all year round. If it’s snowing, we’re working. If it’s raining, we’re working. And if it’s hot and sunny, we’re working. And if a roof needs to be replaced in the middle of summer, we’re working on that roof. So you did get to experience a legitimate Good Works workday.

And as you also experienced, you were on a home that we were just beginning to work on. So there was demolition going on, there was structural work going on, as you can imagine, as the home progresses from its original condition to its fully renovated, the jobs change, and the skills are all different. And, you know, we do ask our volunteers to work a full day. There is, I think the culture tends to say, well, we need to be flexible. Hey, could I volunteer if I could work half a day or just a couple of hours? And the reality is, this kind of work takes more time than that. If you’re only giving a few hours, you wouldn’t have learned the new skills. Right? You wouldn’t have been able to complete the jobs that we completed that day because you have experience. You get into these old houses, and you think you’re gonna do it one way. And once you cut into the wall, you realize, no. It’s not gonna be the way we planned it, because old houses have quirks, and you find things as you go.

So we really push our message to volunteers one day a month. Are you willing to commit one day a month to making a difference in your community? We will give you plenty to do on that day as you experienced, but the other thing to consider is that the homeowner may have had to take a day off of work, and being you know, losing a day of work for somebody that’s a minimum wage employee, that’s even hard to get the day off. And if volunteers only came for a couple of hours, it’s not fair to them. We wanna put in a full day because it shows that we are committed to that family on that day to get as much work done as we can. Does that make sense?

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. It really does. And I just wanna touch on and share some feedback on the skills that I learned on the day. I’ll have, you know, sir, that I have since repaired a chair from my house where I used a handsaw and some power tools, and the chair is safe, and the family feels comfortable. So, I actually, you just, in that one full day picked up some skills already. So, thank you for that.

Bob Beggs: I love that. And it’s one of the benefits of volunteering is because most of our volunteers own a home, or they love learning the new skills that our tech advisors teach them. Our volunteers don’t have to have any skills to volunteer. We’re not just looking for contractors. We are looking for willing hearts, people who are willing to come out, and we’ll teach you the skills. We provide all the tools. We provide all the safety equipment, and everything you need, and you’re gonna walk away with new skills every time you work. And I’d like to think that that’s one of the reasons people keep coming back, is because they keep learning new skills, and they’re saying, this is useful to me. Now I can do this at home, and I don’t have to pay a contractor to come out and do the work. So, yeah. It’s always a fulfilling time, and that’s the feedback we get from from volunteers.

Erik Gudmundson: Well, despite the full day of work that Liam put in and his newfound acumen with power tools, I understand that it takes 12 to 18 months to repair many of the homes that you work on. So walk me through why it takes so long to complete those repair jobs, particularly when you’re putting in such long days.

Bob Beggs: Yeah. That does seem like a long time, doesn’t it? And think about being a homeowner, and you finally there’s a 2-year waiting list for a 2-year wait list for our services. So keep that in context. So when Liam and the team showed up last you know, 2 Saturdays ago, that homeowner had been waiting for 2 years. That’s how much pent-up demand there is for these services. But Good Works is different, and we are not just about repairing the home.

Now, remember I mentioned that we want our volunteers to commit. We want people to commit one day a month. And so on the home that Liam worked on, work typically wouldn’t go on again until a month later, likely with a different set of volunteers, but the same work leader in tech. 

So it takes us on average 12 to 18 workdays to do everything that needs to be done on the home, but we space it out over that time, primarily because we want to build relationships with the families we’re serving. What’s most important to us isn’t the home repair, but the relationship building. And if we rushed in there and just banged it out in 2 weeks, there wouldn’t be much relationships being built. But by spacing it out, we celebrate a year’s worth of birthdays with that family. We sell, we are there to be a shoulder to cry on when a kid goes to prison, or somebody passes away during that time.

And a recurring theme that we hear from homeowners even though they’ve waited those 2 years, is that your timing for being at our house was we couldn’t have imagined it because this happened or that happened. One of the whole home repair program houses that we just worked on, we had just started work there late last year, we had only sent a tech staff over there to do some technical work.

And in January of this year, in one of those freak storms that we had, a tree fell on top of her mobile home and crushed the mobile home, the back of the mobile home. The municipality said it was going to have to be condemned. A 76-year-old woman had no place to go. Red Cross put her up in a hotel. They mentioned, her aide mentioned that Good Works had worked on her home, and they, the municipality called us. And we’ve worked on plenty of crushed mobile homes, and so we said, yeah. We can bring that we can bring that back to a livable condition. And we, local there, with a couple of teams and in a period of, well, it took us in that case, we sent our Monday retired guys over there, as well as some of our paid tech staff, and we had her back in her home in about 6 weeks.

And, I mean, it was great timing because her birthday, her 77th birthday fell in the week that the municipality signed off that it was safe for occupancy again. But, so what a celebration we had. We had a cake, and the staff was there, and she was there. It was an absolutely amazing time, but that’s the relationship piece.

Now, that one happened in a very short time frame because of the emergency associated with it. But those dedication ceremonies we have at the end of every job, we like to dedicate that home after those 12 to 18 months. That is, it really is a bittersweet time for the volunteers and the homeowners because we’ve gotten to know each other so well. Once you’re in the Good Works family, you’re in the Good Works family forever.

Erik Gudmundson: I have a follow-up on that. Do any of the clients that you’ve assisted, do they come back as volunteers, later on? Have you ever experienced that?

Bob Beggs: We have experienced that, and most interestingly, in a program that we have called our ambassador program. Now, when you think of Good Works, you’re thinking, boy, I have to know how to pound nails and hang drywall and replace sewer lines, and what you know, everything needs to be done in a house. But we have a group of volunteers that we call our ambassadors, and their only job on a workday is to minister to the relational, emotional, and spiritual needs of the family that’s living there, as well as those volunteers that show up, because volunteers come, and they have issues in their lives too. So these volunteers are trained to listen, to pray with the homeowners, to share good biblical encouragement and guidance, and to help the homeowners get connected with a local church that could continue to help them after we’re gone. They have a very broad remit on a workday to do that kind of work. I mention that because that’s a workday engagement with the ambassadors. We realized that after we left the home, that,that engagement was still something those homeowners desired. So we started what we called Beyond the Workday Ambassadors, to be a telephone ministry that, again, all the work’s been done in the home. 

Now, these Beyond the Workday Ambassadors make a phone call each month to those families, and they say, how are you doing? What can I pray? What’s going on in your life? Right? So we stay connected. When we came up with the idea beyond the workday, we figured that it would be, you know, members of local churches, people that just have the time to make a phone call. What we didn’t expect was that it was the homeowners that we had served that said, could I be a Beyond the Workday ambassador? Could I now call somebody and connect with them? And what a powerful connection that is, because they’ve lived through the experience that another homeowner has lived through. 

And so, we don’t require anything of our homeowners. We don’t require sweat equity on the workday. We don’t, we would never put linen on their home. We, it’s all the repairs are free to them. And that is, we do that as a metaphor for what Christ does for us. Right? He doesn’t require anything from us to take care of our lives, to come into our lives. And in fact, I know I’m running on a little here, but one of the things that we do that’s unique, we call it the Good Works way. The majority of nonprofit home repair organizations, when a homeowner calls them, they’ll say, you know, my roof is leaking, or I need new windows, or I have no heat. They will go in and fix 1 or 2 things, and they limit, they cap the amount that they’ll spend at a house. That’s never been the Good Works way. The Good Works way is we do a total home inspection. We’re gonna identify everything that needs to be done. So the homeowner called about 2 or 3 urgent things.

That work plan is 60-70 projects that need to be done. And they’re all gonna be done for free no matter what they cost us. Again, we do that as a metaphor for what Christ does for us. You open the door of your home to Good Works, everything’s gonna be taken care of. You open the door of your heart to Christ, everything’s gonna be taken care of. And that’s the way we operate. So, again, long answer to your question, but I wanna give you the feel for the DNA of Good Works, and that’s at the heart of it.

Liam Dempsey: Thank you for that. I read on your website that Good Works assists low-income families and individuals who are 200% below the federal repo federal poverty level. So for our listeners, can you tell us what the federal poverty level is in 2024? We know it’s a sliding scale depending on the number of people in the home. But then more importantly, what I’d like to understand is how did you and your board decided that 200% of that level was where Good Works wanted to get involved and help?

Bob Beggs: Yes. So for 2024, the federal poverty level for a one-person household. So the typical widow that’s living alone, older senior citizen, living veteran who’s living alone, is $14,980. Now, that scale goes up if there are 2 people in the home, it goes up to, you know, 19,720. So it’s a scale that goes all the way up to 8 residents in the home. We doubled the federal poverty level because of what I shared at the beginning of, at the beginning of this podcast is that we live in the wealthiest county in Pennsylvania, and it’s not an inexpensive place to live. And ahhh. Less expensive than New York City, but it’s expensive.

And so, by doubling the federal poverty level, that means that a widow, if she makes less than 29,000 and, you know, local security will be less than 29,000, then we’re gonna be able to serve. What’s interesting is that the United Way, I know that you’ve spoken to Chris at the United Way, and they published a report. It’s called the ALICE report, and ALICE stands for Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed residents. And, I highly recommend people go to the website and read that report because it does give you a feel for the real state of poverty in Chester County. But for a single, that report does the research, and it shows that to survive, simply to survive in Chester County, a single person needs to earn at least $35,628 a year. That’s not living high on the hog by any means. That is literally, I don’t know how anybody would do it at 35. So when you look at ours, at 29,000 is our cap. It says we are serving the poorest of the poor in the county. And again, as I suggested, sadly, there are too many people, too many of our neighbors that are living that way. Did that answer your question?

Liam Dempsey: Sure did. Thank you.

Erik Gudmundson: I read that Good Works helps about a 175 families per year. Organizing that many construction sites must be an enormous logistical challenge. How do you manage it? I’m curious if you would share some lessons or ideas that business leaders, or with business leaders on managing the sheer number of projects, materials, and team members that your organization oversees?

Bob Beggs: Oh, my, my, my. Erik, I wish I could say that we had a sophisticated digital AI-based system that managed all of our inventory, all of our manpower, all of that. We’re not that sophisticated. We have a dream of being that sophisticated. As you know, I used to work at a large aerospace company that was that sophisticated. So it was tough stepping into a nonprofit space where I had, you know, I volunteered, I have volunteered for Good Works for 34 years now. But I would say that, what we have would be a very, very complex paper-based system that has been turned digital, but it’s still digital paper. 

Now, we have really, 1100, 1200 volunteers now as we come out of COVID, and volunteer management is an interesting challenge. When people come to our workdays, we never know what skills they’re gonna have. It’s, we never know for sure on a Saturday morning if the volunteers that signed up are going to come or they’re not going to come. So at a very high level, I would say the answer to your question is we plan for a workday. We plan based on what we think the workday, how the workday is going to go off. In other words, we have laid out all the materials we’re gonna need, assuming we’re gonna have 50 volunteers and we’re gonna work on 6 houses that day. We know that we have enough projects to do. 

We plan to expect issues. We expect that a homeowner’s gonna cancel that Saturday morning. We expect that a group that’s signed up isn’t going to sign up, and another group is gonna show up. We always have a backup plan on a Saturday if we get surprised by a change.

And the most important principle that we apply is that God is in charge of our workday. So he already has, we believe that he already has a plan for that workday, and whatever happens, is part of his plan. And our job is to react to that, and to be in step with that, and to be flexible. So every one of our work crew leaders, everyone of these are volunteers, our operations directors, our work crew leaders, and our tech advisors know that flexibility is key. 

And our lunch providers who, you know, are cooking lunches for all our teams, you know, a house could get cancelled, 10 more people could show up. Nobody gets flustered because they know God is in charge of the workday, and I will tell you that over having done this for now 34 years, we have never had a bad workday.

And at the end, we always look back and say, how in the world did that happen? Because there’s no way that was our original plan. And in the end, work got done, homes were brought to a better standard of living, and volunteers were exhausted, but said, wow. It was an amazing day. Lunches were served, and all we can do is look up and say, thank you, God.

Liam Dempsey: Bob, in our off-air conversations, you spoke of plans for Good Works to teach other nonprofits who are eager to ramp up the ministry aspects of their respective programs. That’s an innovative way to replicate what you do more broadly, what Good Works does more broadly. How’s that program coming together? Try to sue that a little bit.

Bob Beggs: Yeah. It’s a funny story because we had some long-term volunteers who had moved to other cities, and they would call me up and then say, hey, could I start Good Works in Pittsburgh? Or could I start a Good Works? Because I loved doing it when I was back there in Philadelphia. And so we initially had this vision of establishing Good Works affiliates in other cities. Right? And so, we set up a committee of our board of directors, we looked at different models, we had our attorneys involved. We came up with licensing agreements for a whole affiliate program, created books on how to get started, and the whole thing. And but we said, this isn’t gonna be a push. We’re not gonna market this. If somebody’s interested, we can. Here’s the plan for how to become a Good Works affiliate. 

And so we’re ready to go if that were to happen. And it’s a plan that protects the name of Good Works. We’re not gonna just have some guy who wants to do this, start digging into somebody’s house, and put a Good Work sign in Pittsburgh. It doesn’t work that way. We are a sophisticated organization that has a reputation that we could not afford to have tarnished. 

What we didn’t realize was that God had a different plan. And it became real to me when I spoke at a conference of the Coalition For Home Repair. Now, the Coalition For Home Repair is a national organization of nonprofit home repair groups. Big ones like Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together, and large ones like us, and even very small ones. They have a national conference, and I joined that a few years back, and they’re relatively new as well. And I spoke at their conference, and I was actually speaking on how to use metrics, business metrics, to more effectively run your nonprofit home repair organization. And I spoke about financial metrics, operational metrics, and ministry metrics. And a gentleman who was in that session came up, he could tell me more about these ministry metrics, I’m interested.

As a result of that question, we started an affinity group within the coalition, with the idea of attracting the faith-based home repair groups to share best practices and things. Now, that’s been going on now for 5 years. and what we realized was there were faith-based organizations that were reticent about sharing faith because they were afraid if they did that, they would lose funding, they would alienate people, they would offend homeowners, for any number of reasons. So although they were faith-based, they weren’t putting their faith into action.

To me, that’s disingenuous. If you are registered as faith-based, then you ought to be doing what you say you’re going to be doing. So Good Works now had a track record of incorporating this faith-based relational model for many years, and we realized that what we needed to do was to help other organizations do what we are doing in their regions. 

So, we launched a new affiliate program which provides organizations that sign up with a year’s worth of all the materials, a year’s worth of training for free. They provide, and the only thing we ask in exchange is that they send their metrics back to us, because we want to hold them accountable for doing what we train them to do. And we just started that last year. We have 2 affiliates, 1 in Georgia, 1 in Alabama, and we have now 2 more signing up this year, 1 in Massachusetts and 1 in South Carolina. So we see a type of replication that wasn’t in our model at all, but it was in God’s model, and it’s a different way of achieving our vision of doing Good Works nationwide.

Erik Gudmundson: Back to Chester County here. Your current service area is central and northern Chester County. How did you decide to focus on those specific regions? And you’ve mentioned several times how you coordinate with different organizations that do similar things to what you do in terms of, you know, building and repairing homes. But I’m curious how you coordinate, you know, with the other organizations in different parts of the county.

Bob Beggs: Yes. Good Works started in Coatesville, and it started when Jim Ford, who was the Founder of Good Works, he was a phys ed teacher at the time, Downingtown school, I think. And he used to, in the summer, go down to Appalachia Service Project. And one of his trips, instead of taking the bypass around Coatesville, drove through Coatesville, and he looked left and right, and he said, wait a minute, why am I going all the way down to Appalachia when we have issues right here? And that was 36 years ago. Coatesville looked different than it does today, and that was the genesis of Good Works. At that time, it started very small, and it started in Coatesville, which is where the majority of poverty was so evident what we would call generational poverty. When steel moved the steel industry moved out, we had generational poverty here. As Good Works grew over the years, we realized that Westchester was next, and we expanded into Westchester.

That expansion required the identification of a warehouse. We had a small warehouse here in Coatesville, where we store all our materials and where our volunteers meet. We had to do the same thing in Westchester. We needed a new set of staff in Westchester. And so, we then took another step and went up to Phoenixville. Needed to find a warehouse in Phoenixville, needed to, and what we realized was Chester County a large county. We wanted to draw volunteers from all parts of the county, but if you lived all the way up in Phoenixville, you would be spending at least 30 minutes getting down here to Coatesville to serve. And so, we introduced what we call this neighbor helping neighbors model.

So we literally make the Westchester warehouse self-sufficient, and so municipalities surrounding actually, that warehouse has now moved to Exton, but the same municipality. So if you lived in Malvern, you’re going to be vectored to our Westchester region to serve, because it’s a shorter distance, and you literally might be serving somebody that you pass every day as you go to work. Right? So then we expanded up to Phoenixville, and then in 2015, we finally, when the original founder of Good Works, Jim, had gotten up to Phoenixville. 

When I took over in 2014, the northwestern part of the county had not yet been covered. We did that. We established a warehouse in Saint Peter’s Village. So now all of central and northern was covered with our services.

Now, why did we not go south? Well, about 5 years after Good Works started, a gentleman from Kennett Square said, hey, could we do Good Works down in Southern Chester County, out of Kennett Square? And at the time, Jim said, I’ve got enough on my hands trying to do this and keep my job at the and so we agreed that we’ll share best practices and things, but you do your own thing, and they became good neighbors.

And again, Good Neighbors are still in operation today. They’re part of our whole home repair coalition, but we have what we call the Mason-Dixon line. It cuts across the bottom of the central Chester County there. Any homeowner that calls from Southern Chester County calls us, we send them to Good Neighbors. Anybody in central and northern that calls for help, they send them up to us. And it’s a gentleman’s agreement that we have maintained for all these years, and it works out great.

Erik Gudmundson: I think it’s wonderful that you collaborate together like that to best serve all the residents in the county. So thank you for doing that.

Liam Dempsey: Bob, I’m gonna totally take us in a new direction, and what I’m really kind of excited to ask you about. We understand that you are one of 3 cofounders of the American Helicopter Museum in Chester. And that is a fantastic museum for a child of any age. Anything from 4 to 84. I love it there. Well, I think we could probably have an entire conversation here just about that museum. I’m gonna limit myself to just a single question. Why did you want to open a helicopter museum?

Bob Beggs: Yes. So first of all, Southeastern Pennsylvania is the cradle of the rotary wing, I. E, helicopters, rotating wing aircraft in the United States, and nobody knows that. But it all started here. And back in 1993, there’s an organization called the American Helicopter Society, which is the technical society for the helicopter industry. And back in 1993, I was serving as the president of the Philadelphia chapter of that society. And we were coming up to the 50th anniversary of the AHS, and we wanted to do something significant to recognize that. So I pulled together a lot of the pioneers that were still alive in those days of the industry, pulled them down to where I worked. That was at the Boeing Rotorcraft plant in Ridley Park.

And, we brainstormed things that we could do for the 50th anniversary. And one of the ideas was a museum. And that started a 3-year effort to find a place for a museum, build a collection, create all the programs, and finally open it in October of 1996. So it was a 3-year journey to start the museum, but it is there to celebrate this region, which started it all in the United States to inspire new generations of engineers and pilots, and people interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, stem, and just to educate people on the amazing capabilities that rotary wing aviation has contributed to humankind. And I think we do that well over there. I would encourage you at some point maybe to do a podcast on that, maybe at the museum, if that was possible. I would be pleased to give you the founders’ tour of the museum at that time and tell you a whole lot more.

Liam Dempsey: I’m gonna accept that right now, and I’m gonna pitch that we do a podcast from a helicopter in the air. Just put it out there. Just put it out there. No pressure. No need. Go ahead, Erik.

Erik Gudmundson: Our podcast budget just went up significantly with the cost of fuel these days, but, yes, I wouldn’t opposed to that.

Bob Beggs: Just get used to the sound of rotors overhead as we speak.

Erik Gudmundson: So everything that you’ve explained today, Bob, tells me that you really approach a lot of what you do at almost as an engineer, at least with an engineering background. So knowing that your professional background includes 31 years in aviation engineering, how did your work, would you say, in the aviation industry prepare you for leadership with Good Works?

Bob Beggs: Yes. It’s certainly, 31 years at a large aerospace company does prepare you. It does create a mindset of processes, managing processes effectively, and measuring what you do. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. And coming into the nonprofit space, I was amazed at how many nonprofit organizations don’t measure what they do so that they can identify issues and address them, and celebrate what they’re doing and make those numbers available. 

So, I would say some things that are brought into the nonprofit space is that systems thinking. I didn’t mention while we’re talking about the tools, I mean how we do the work. We are actually working to develop software, for doing the work that we do. I mentioned, wouldn’t it be nice if I could say AI and digital with that we got it all worked out? The reality is we are working with a company, Freya Systems, to develop what I’ve called the GoodWorks Digital Toolbox. And it actually incorporates some of the theories and practices that I had worked with that company in my prior job to maintain military aircraft. Maintenance is maintenance. 

And so someday, I’ll be able to share, with you guys probably one of the most sophisticated tools for managing Good Works operations that we are in the midst of developing. We’re just not there yet. So I brought that into this space. I believe that was, but I’m going to flip it. I’m going to flip this question a little bit, because when I got involved in Good Works back in 1991as, at that time, a relatively well, I’ve been in management for a while, but I realized that the lessons I learned leading volunteers in the nonprofit space, were invaluable in the for-profit space where at the company I worked, I had a paycheck. Right? That people working for me, that was the incentive. If something needed to be done, it’s a job, right? And I’m the boss. It doesn’t work in the nonprofit space, in the volunteer space. You need to learn a whole different set of skills to lead in that space. And what I learned was if I, you know, you need lead to learn from the heart. You need to really try to understand what people’s capabilities are and put them in the right jobs, not try to force fit things like you can do when you have a paycheck over somebody’s head. So when I came, when I took the lessons learned from my nonprofit work back into my for-profit work, it was a game changer within my organization.

The maturation of my leadership skills came from outside, although I had the benefit of all that training that the company gave me, leading from the heart was a game changer. And so as my career progressed into more senior leadership positions, and I was mentoring young man managers at the company, I would always encourage them to get involved in a nonprofit that you are interested in. I don’t care if it’s the SPCA and whatever. Some kind of nonprofit work where it’s gonna change your pair leadership paradigm because remember, a volunteer, if they’re upset on a workday, they’re never coming back. That’s not the way it works at a paid job. They’re coming back anyway. They’re gonna be upset with you as the manager, but it’s invaluable, the skills that you take away from leading a nonprofit when you put those into operation, in your for-profit job. And you’re gonna find, like I did, that all of a sudden your group is winning, you know, team of the year. They’re getting recognized for performance. I can’t say how important volunteerism is to a regular career. I can’t.

Liam Dempsey: That’s some great insight. Thank you for sharing that. And it leads quite nicely into my next question is we’re coming close on time here, so I’ll ask it quickly. You’re probably a good boss, Bob. Are you hiring? And, are you also accepting new volunteers? You talked about you’re up to about 1200. Are you looking for more?

Bob Beggs: We absolutely are looking for more. We’re always looking for more volunteers. COVID hurt us from a volunteer perspective. We were at 1500 volunteers in 2019. We were at 880 at the end of 2020, and you know why. The interesting thing, just a little bit of an aside, when everything ground to a halt and we were told to stay home, we were in an interesting position. We had homes. We had some 40 homes in some state of disrepair, and to be told that we weren’t allowed to go back and put Mrs. Smith’s toilet in was like, not gonna work for us.

We immediately, of course, applied for a waiver, and then we worked undercover to continue to work on homes, but the volunteerism dropped off significantly. We are only returning back now. We, volunteer leaders, is the most critical. If I can get one work crew leader, somebody that a work crew leader is a person who’s a people person, organizer, somebody who doesn’t have to have great technical skills, but is a good people leader, and then one tech advisor. Right? That enables me to get 10 volunteers and assign them to them, we can start another house. So I am always looking for people that want to hone those leadership skills, to come join us, and we’ll provide the training. And then I can, again, I can recruit 10 more volunteers every month, because we’re gonna start another house. That’s the way it works.

From a, and here’s the reality, some of our senior volunteer leadership positions, our operations directors are getting older. I’ve been doing it for 30 like I said, 34 years. I’m one of the operations director. At some point, my goal isn’t to retire, but at some point. And so, we are looking for kind of senior leaders as well to take some of those voluntary, those volunteer jobs, leadership jobs is what I’m trying to say. 

From a, we have a very small paid staff. We have 13 paid employees at Good Works. Half of those are paid repair techs. We actually ,we will have an opening later this year for an Applications Coordinator. That’s a person who takes all the information from our homeowners and verifies their income, verifies their homeownership, all of that, and approves them for our services. We will have an opening later this year for that, but it’s mostly volunteer positions that are available.

Erik Gudmundson: Well, aside from the American Helicopter Museum, are there any local businesses or nonprofit organizations that you think more people in Chester County should know about?

Bob Beggs: Chester County is blessed with some absolutely amazing organizations that are there to support a variety of needs. In fact, probably more than any other county in the Commonwealth. I will refer, the way to answer that is there’s a book that is published by Open Hearth, and it’s funded by the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation, and it’s called the Helpbook. And it’s, they’re on their 6th edition of the Helpbook, and it lists every single organization, services, providers that are in this county. And some of those serve, these services aren’t necessarily just for low-income families. Right? This is for anybody who needs help. And, we as I just paged through that book, the number of organizations that are out there, and every one of them are phenomenal. Anything that you need for senior assistance, for, you know, food, you know, if you don’t have access to food, if you wanna get involved in volunteerism with these groups. It’s an amazing book, and it’s online now. I’m sure you can get access to it via, through Open Hearth. It’s available online, and I would, I would endorse any one of the organizations that are in there because they’re absolute, all absolutely amazing.

Liam Dempsey: Bob, I think Erik would join me in saying our nonprofit leader guests are getting increasingly more skilled at answering that question in very diplomatic and very politically safe ways. It’s a great answer. I love it. Thank you for sharing that.

Bob Beggs: My pleasure. It’s the truth.

Erik Gudmundson: And I would add to that, Liam, that not only the answer is getting a little bit more political, but I think they’re getting more, more useful. I continue to learn new things every time we ask that question. So, Bob, I really appreciate your answer.

Liam Dempsey: Bob, in our conversation before today, you spoke about how poverty is a lack of hope and a lack of relationships. That is not a common definition of poverty. Please explain what you mean by poverty being a lack of hope in relationships.

Bob Beggs: Yeah. That’s a good question. You know, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the years that I volunteered, with Good Works, it’s that any one of us could fall into a state of poverty. All it takes is one job loss, one illness or accident, a divorce, an addiction, a bad decision, or even inequality can put you into a state of what we would call situational poverty. But poverty is so much different than it’s so much deeper than simply a lack of money, and that’s what I think people think of poverty as, oh, you’re in poverty because you don’t have money. Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert had wrote a book entitled When Helping Hurts. You may have heard of it. And it discusses a premise that we experience, you know, the true poverty isn’t simply a lack of money, but it’s a result of broken relationships. And we see that. The broken relationships are a broken relationship with your creator, God. It’s a broken relationship with his creation. What I mean by that are all the things that we are meant to steward are our money, our time, our environment, etcetera. It’s broken relationships with others, and it’s broken relationships with self. And that’s why as I said earlier, relationships are so important to our work. If all we did was fix somebody’s house, we have missed addressing the true cause of poverty. 

And what those broken relationship rob you of is hope. Martin Luther King said, “If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving. You lose that courage to be that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all.” 

And another quote that I wanted to share with you was this was spoken on ABC News just a few years ago. It said, “The most profound poverty is poverty of the soul. It’s a national crisis. There is a hunger in America today to find meaning in life. Humanism has failed to satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. We have lost something special, our souls.”

I find it, I found it amazing to hear that on ABC News, but it really cuts to the heart of why we do what we do. As I said, if all we did was fix houses, it would be a hollow victory. It’s those relationships that matter, and that’s why Good Works is what Good Works is.

Erik Gudmundson: That’s a powerful answer. And to bring it back to very simple reality, for the ALICE population, they are 1 dead battery away from utter despair. So having those relationships, having those connections, having access to groups like yours is critical.

Liam Dempsey: Bob Beggs, Executive Director of Good Works. Many thanks for your time today, sir. Before we say goodbye, can you share where people can find you online and learn more about your organization and the work you’re doing?

Bob Beggs: Sure. Online, you can reach us at [www.goodworksincinc.org]. [goodworksinc.org].

Erik Gudmundson: Bob, thanks for spending some of your time with us today. We really appreciate it, and really enjoyed hearing all your answers. Thank you for everything you’re doing.

Liam Dempsey: Thanks for listening today. We value your time and attention to this conversation, and we appreciate you being a part of our Start Local community. 

As a reminder, show notes and links to everything we talked about today will be on our website over at [startlocal.co]. We publish a new episode every fortnight, and you can catch our show wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. We invite you to subscribe to our email list over on our website. That’ll ensure that you are among the first to receive our new episodes and updates. Please connect with us and follow us on LinkedIn. We are active there and want you to be a part of the conversation too. 

Until the next time. Thanks for listening.

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