The Gary Sinise Foundation Portraits in Giving blog is our way of highlighting key corporate partners who have gone above and beyond to support our work honoring our service members, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need. Owens Corning embodies what it means to give back through their steadfast support of our R.I.S.E. Program and other initiatives.
Owens Corning, a global building and industrial materials leader with three key businesses, insulation, roofing, and fiberglass composite materials, has contributed to nearly 25 of our specially adapted smart homes and growing.
We recently sat down with Don Rettig, President of the Owens Corning Foundation and Director of Community Affairs, to learn more about Owens Corning’s history of supporting veterans and first responders.
Could you explain in the simplest terms, what Owens Corning does and the organization’s overall mission?
There are two sides to this: The Owens Corning Foundation and the larger company – Owens Corning. The purpose of our company is that our people and products make the world a better place. I think through our partnerships with organizations like the Gary Sinise Foundation and your R.I.S.E. Program, that purpose statement, “our people and products make the world a better place,” is at its very best because we are using the financial support of the Owens Corning Foundation, donations of our building materials, and volunteerism. So, when those three streams of giving come together, I think that is where we really live out that purpose statement.
Could you tell us a little bit more about the Owens Corning Foundation and your focus on giving back to the community?
The Foundation has been around since the 1970s; today, we are about 19,000 employees in 33 countries around the world. And our Foundation is active in most of those countries. Across the U.S., our primary focus is housing and shelter. We contribute more than just a check – we have a very strong employee volunteer program, and we donate the products we manufacture to make a difference in our communities.
I believe it is important to have a longer-term relationship with our charitable partners. The relationship should be mutually beneficial, but in the end, we are joining the non-profit in their mission. So, we need to fully support that mission and the charity needs to understand how and why we bring our resources to support their efforts. If there is a good fit, our support grows to help the charity make a more significant impact. This is certainly what happened with the Gary Sinise Foundation over the last four years.
How did the partnership with the Gary Sinise Foundation come about and what drew Owens Corning to work with the Foundation?
This is one of my favorite stories. I was on the West Coast for a corporate event and one of the speakers was Retired U.S. Master Sergeant Cedric King, a recipient of a R.I.S.E. home. I was in the audience, unaware of the Gary Sinise Foundation or the R.I.S.E. Program at that point. As I sat and listened to Cedric, who is an amazing speaker, it hit me that this is really a perfect program for us. R.I.S.E. is a program building homes for severely wounded combat veterans; so it gives us a chance to support a housing program through donations of building materials, financial support and volunteerism. As the business meeting ended and we headed for the outdoor reception, I made a direct line to Cedric and sat and talked with him for half an hour. I found out as much as I could. When I headed back to Toledo, the first thing I did was contact the Gary Sinise Foundation and expressed my interest and learned how we might help to build these homes.
Scott Schaeperkoetter called me back and invited me out two weeks later to a home dedication in Portland. I flew out, learned more about the program, and attended the dedication. I think we began to provide our support within a few months through donations of building materials and eventually encouraged our largest contractors to donate labor. Here we are some four years later.
Also, two years in we started talking to the Gary Sinise Foundation about having someone join the Advisory Council. I thought immediately of Mike Swift, who has a prominent role at Owens Corning, is former military, and has a passion for what we do with veterans and military. He is now the President of the Advisory Council for the Gary Sinise Foundation. So, when I talk about building upon relationships over time this is another great example.
What are the natural connections between Owens Corning and the Gary Sinise Foundation?
The fact that you have a program that is solely focused on providing housing to help these families, particularly veterans, was a natural fit for us. Housing and shelter are probably our most prominent area of focus over the years as a Foundation and company. We have dozens of manufacturing locations across the country. Many of the men and women who work at those locations served in the military or have children who serve in the military. And every day, when I read their comments on our internal postings about the work we do through the R.I.S.E Program, and on occasion when they have been able to attend home dedications, they express their pride in their company because we support an organization like Gary Sinise Foundation.
It was just a perfect fit for us because we try to take on projects that we know resonate with our people. The integrity of the Gary Sinise Foundation is obviously vitally important to us. Anyone who is familiar with Gary and his Foundation know that integrity is of the utmost importance.
The Gary Sinise Foundation also helps us tell a powerful story of the impact of the work they do. I work with charities all over the world and I am unaware of one that tells their story better. To have access to firsthand accounts of impact through the Ambassador program with people like Cedric King and Ginger Ravella is a game changer for us.
Let’s talk a little bit about the GSF R.I.S.E. Program: Owens Corning’s experience at home dedications, involvement from start to finish, and what the specially adapted homes mean to the company and the employees.
When home dedications are in communities where we have facilities and people, I can go to the local facility and let them know that we would love to bring the frontline employees. Those are the men and women who manufacture our products, and they may not get the chance often to go out and see something like that. To see the shingles they manufacture on the roof of one of these homes or to know that the insulation they help manufacture is in the walls of a home that is going to help a family is an incredible opportunity. Once they get there and experience that event, it is impossible to overstate how impactful that is. I have had 30-year employees come up to me and say that the dedication was a highlight of their career.
They get a chance to meet the home recipients who are always so gracious. All our people want to do the same thing – express their gratitude to those who have served our nation.
What does the cause of supporting service members, veterans, first responders, and their families mean to you personally?
Like many of my colleagues across the U.S., I served. I was in the Ohio National Guard for seven years. I was never called to active duty, but many of my friends were. I have been at events with our Owens Corning team members who served in the reserves, guard, and of course active duty. So certainly, there is a personal connection for me because of that service. But for me, the connection with our people across the U.S., and their expressions of thanks to their company for supporting this work is as good as it gets.
To learn more about Owens Corning and the Owens Corning Foundation, visit owenscorning.com.