Transforming Communities Through Sustainable Development and Construction Trades Training

A team working on reviving one of ecoREHAB’s houses. Photo providedA team working on reviving one of ecoREHAB’s houses. Photo provided

By Jud Fisher— 

MUNCIE, IN —  In the heart of Muncie, there’s an organization powerfully reshaping the landscape—and the workforce—one house at a time and one life at a time. ecoREHAB, a nonprofit headquartered in Muncie’s Old West End, is on a mission to help revitalize the community’s neighborhoods through sustainable design, rehabilitation, and education. At the same time, the organization is building a new generation of workers prepared for high-demand jobs in construction trades.

ecoREHAB was founded 15 years ago by Jonathan Spodek, a visionary Ball State University architecture professor, as a response to the housing crisis gripping the nation in 2008-2009. Initially, Spodek rallied a team of Ball State students to rehabilitate abandoned houses in historic downtown Muncie neighborhoods to demonstrate the properties could be renovated, retrofitted with energy efficient systems, and ultimately, be seen as worth saving.

As ecoREHAB’s impact grew, so did its aspirations. Leanly staffed, nimble, and responsive to community needs, ecoREHAB’s board and staff have stepped up to meet big challenges in big ways. During the height of the meth crisis in 2015, ecoREHAB’s then-executive director Craig Graybeal led an effort to acquire, clean, rehab, and sell a former “meth house” on the city’s southside. At the time, Delaware County had among the highest number of meth lab seizures in the state—the costs and stigma associated with meth homes was having a devastating impact not only in Muncie but on neighborhoods across the country. The project served as a valuable demonstration that such rehabilitation was possible.

Now, under the leadership of CEO Jason Haney, the organization has further expanded its reach to address the pressing need for affordable housing while also creating opportunities for young adults during and post-graduation. Recognizing the high demand for skilled trades, ecoREHAB launched its Skilled Trades Program (STEP) in 2021 with support from Ball Brothers Foundation. This seventeen-week program provides hands-on training in construction trades to at-risk Muncie residents, empowering them with the skills and confidence to build a bright future of their own.

Collaboration has been a key factor in ecoREHAB’s success. From Ball State University’s College of Architecture and Planning to local organizations like the Muncie Mission and Eastern Indiana Works’ WorkOne, partnerships have fueled the organization’s impact.

By the end of May, ecoREHAB will have transformed approximately 20 homes since its inception, breathing new life into neighborhoods once plagued by blight and neglect. But the impact goes beyond bricks and mortar. Each renovated home symbolizes transformed lives, futures, and restored hope.

“I had one student who came from a family where both of their parents were well educated with careers in the medical field,” Haney reflected when asked about the impact of STEP. “And one day they made the comment that they knew their path wasn’t going to be the same. When they graduated high school, they thought life was over. That was until they found this program and really discovered what they like to do. Those stories where young adults, after going through the program, have found they have all these opportunities in front of them, that they get to choose, are truly special.”

Now, ecoREHAB has an ambitious rehab project of its very own. The organization recently acquired “The Yard” to establish a new headquarters that will poise the nonprofit for even greater impact. Formerly McCartys Lumberyard, “The Yard” was donated by Norfolk Southern Railroads as a gift to ecoREHAB which needed additional space to run training courses. Plans are underway to establish a state-of-the-art training center and production studios on the property that is almost three acres with 11 buildings. Located in the Old West End, ecoREHAB is helping drive transformative change in one of the city’s downtown neighborhoods by converting the once-abandoned site to a thriving center of activity.

In addition to its current initiatives, ecoREHAB is at the forefront of innovative construction methods, notably paneled construction. This progressive approach originated from ecoREHAB’s participation in the Solar Decathlon global design-build competition, a collaboration with Ball State University to address sustainable housing challenges. Funding for the production studios that will use this paneled construction method present several benefits, such as streamlining construction processes, ensuring quality control, and providing a climate-controlled environment for building, making it especially helpful for students.

As ecoREHAB continues to pioneer new approaches to community development, the future is filled with promise and possibility. With support from partners from across the community, the organization is not only building houses but building hope with every new project.

Since 2015, Ball Brothers Foundation has been a steadfast supporter of ecoREHAB’s transformative mission, awarding over $500,000. Funding has allowed ecoREHAB to strengthen its operations, innovate and experiment with new ways to meet some of our community’s most pressing needs, launch pilot programs, and offer hands-on learning opportunities to over 60 students, including those studying architecture and those pursuing construction trades.

About Ball Brothers Foundation

Ball Brothers Foundation is one of the state’s oldest and largest family foundations. In 2023, the foundation paid out $8.8 million in grants to support place-based initiatives related to arts and culture, education, the environment, health, human services, and public affairs. The Muncie-based private foundation gives priority to projects and programs that improve the quality of life in the foundation’s home city, county, and state.