Building houses 5 cents at a time

Brian Koonz Staff COLUMNIST Article Last Updated: 03/05/2008 07:10:54 AM EST

Chris Goodrich keeps his rose-colored glasses on a cord around his neck. Not that it really matters. The Brookfield man sees with his heart most of the time, anyway.

Where other folks see empty soda cans and dirty deposit bottles, Goodrich sees so much more. He sees doors and windows and drywall.

More importantly, Goodrich sees a chance for local Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts to help build houses for the less fortunate in Connecticut.

The fledgling program Scouts CAN is a joint venture locally between Habitat for Humanity and the Connecticut Yankee Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

On the surface, it seems like a tall order to collect enough nickels to build a $100,000 house in Fairfield County. But Goodrich, who just returned from a house-building trip to the Dominican Republic, has seen Habitat's magic before.

Last fall, in only three months, scouts from the Connecticut Yankee Council raised $6,000 to help build a house at 25 Maple Ave. in Danbury. For the record, that's 120,000 bottles and cans.

This year, with a full 12 months to solicit donations, the fundraising goal is $50,000, according to Dan Cooley, program director for the Connecticut Yankee Council and its 37 towns. The money will be divided equally among the Habitat offices in Danbury, Bridgeport and New Haven.

Goodrich, who serves as press officer and jack of all trades for Housatonic Habitat for Humanity in Danbury, is convinced local scouts can raise that kind of money. And, just maybe, a little Advertisement bit more.

"We need to teach kids if you get engaged, you really can change the world," said Goodrich, 51. "It's your world, it's your community. You can help make it a better place.

"You can't just sit back and wait for the government to do it. You can't wait for the guy down the street," Goodrich added. "It's up to you to build the world you want to live in."

The motto for the Scouts CAN program is "A can a day builds a home."

It doesn't take long for small numbers to reach dizzying heights. Consider: If a scout averages one redeemed can a day, that's 365 cans a year and $18.25 in deposits. Take 5,000 scouts -- about one-half of the more than 10,000 scouts enrolled in the Connecticut Yankee Council -- and the annual figure balloons to $91,250.

Goodrich already has collection sites set up at the Newtown Transfer Station and the Bethel Transfer Station.

The Newtown site, in particular, has a track record of success. It used to be run by the Newtown High School Band Parents Corp. According to Steve Rosentel, a former band parents president, they collected enough cans here to redeem $15,000 to $16,000 in deposits a year in its heyday.

With thousands of scouts available from Danbury, Newtown, Bethel, New Fairfield, Sherman, Ridgefield, Brookfield, Redding and elsewhere-- and their parents -- Goodrich hopes to make all the collecting, sorting and bagging light work with many hands.

"Just imagine if we could raise $10,000 in Newtown and another $10,000 in Bethel -- and that's just two towns," Goodrich said. "To make it a long-lasting program, however, the transfer station drop-offs are probably the best way to go. You have to make it easy for people if you want it to work."

Is it messy to collect all those bottles and cans? Sure, a little bit.

Is it stinky to sort through all those bottles and cans? Sure, a little bit.

But the end result -- a brand-new home for the folks who need it most -- is well worth it. The concept is catching on across the country, Goodrich said.

In Yuma, Ariz., scouts have already redeemed $500,000 in bottles and cans to build five houses. Nationally, Goodrich said, the Scouts CAN program has raised about $6 million and built about 60 houses for Habitat for Humanity.

Locally, several schools and businesses have also committed to collecting "Cans for Habitat," including Danbury Hospital, Royal Guard Fish and Chips in Danbury, Soho Pizza in Danbury, Eaton Corp. in Bethel, the Wooster School in Danbury, Ridgefield Academy and Brookfield High School.

"We haven't even begun to tap into all the possibilities," said Goodrich, who can be reached at chgoodrich@yahoo.com. "It's all found money. The payoff is huge and the risk-reward ratio is very low."

And yet, it's not enough for Goodrich to put in his two cents anymore.

For this project to really work, for it to sprout legs and take off beyond this year, success will be measured in five-cent increments: One can at a time, one bottle at a time, one house at a time.

The rose-colored glasses on a cord are optional. But they sure seem to work wonders.

Contact Brian Koonz

at bkoonz@newstimes.com

or at (203) 731-3411.