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Developer Builds Nonprofit Housing for Veterans - s11 ep51

Dana Spain Founded the Nonprofit Veterans Villages to House Unsheltered and Impoverished Veterans

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Devin: What is your superpower?

Dana: I asked some of my team yesterday on a call what they thought my superpower was. Since this is a family show, I'm going to self-edit here and say that they said, “If we had to describe Dana Spain's superpower, it’s that she gets stuff done.”

Dana Spain is a second-generation business leader and real estate developer who turned her attention to supporting veterans. She founded the nonprofit Veterans Villages to house unsheltered and impoverished veterans.

She shared the founding story and the vision with us:

Veterans Village came out of a very simple problem; the problem that I saw when I was running a small but very mighty homeless shelter for female veterans is that when they put in all the work and did all kinds of enrichment programs–mind, body, spirit started to make great positive steps in their lives–government agencies were putting them in abject squalor when they were applying for independent housing. 

I just couldn't believe the scattered sites and the drug activity and crime-ridden areas that our ladies were being put into, especially when there was an affordable housing crisis all across the country. But these are people who have fought for our freedoms, and they're being discarded as if they're second-class citizens–if citizens at all. 

So, I was very frustrated and finally had enough. I went to my dad, who was alive at the time, Bernard Spain. He was an army vet. And over cocktails–where we always did our best business meetings–I said, “Dad, I'm just so frustrated. We work hard, the ladies work hard, they're veterans. Yet we're throwing them away and then wondering why the cycle of homelessness and bad decisions continues.”

He looked me square in the eye, Devin, and he said, “You build buildings for a living. Why don't we build a building that is respectful, safe, affordable housing for our veterans and show the government how it's done?”

So Veterans Villages was born. The first Veterans Village is called the Bernard Spain campus as a legacy to my dad because he was the force behind the idea of let's not talk about it, let's be about it. Let's build brand new construction, just like my market-rate apartments, and make it solely for our veterans who are coming out of transitional housing or addiction recovery programs or trauma centers, and have it be a place where our veterans can live together in a community, hence the village concept.

If they are having a bad day, if they feel like they're going to make bad decisions, they have 46 other apartments to go to to knock on the door and say, “I could use a cup of coffee or a shoulder or an ear,” or “Let's watch a ball game together.” It stabilizes a foundation for them to thrive so the cycle does not repeat itself.

That lesson from her father, the sense of urgency to be about something rather than talking about something, became Dana’s superpower.

AI Episode Summary

1. Devin introduces the show "Superpowers for Good" with the guest Dana Spain, founder of Veterans Village, which is aimed at supporting veterans through housing and community.

2. Veterans Village was born out of Dana's experience running a homeless shelter for female veterans, where she saw a need for better housing solutions after transitional programs.

3. Dana’s father, an army veteran, proposed building a respectful, safe and affordable housing project for veterans, which led to the founding of the first Veterans Village, named the Bernard Spain campus.

4. The project was funded privately through corporate and foundation donations, grants, and traditional financing without relying on government funding or tax credits.

5. Key supporters of Veterans Villages included Saint-Gobain's Certainteed, Dow Tile, Amira Vets, Quatro Capital, and First Citizens Community Bank.

6. Dana's professional background includes a career as a developer after working in various fields, such as translation for a French bank, retail with Hallmark stores, publishing, and commercial real estate.

7. Transitioning to veteran-focused charity work, Dana identified a lack of safe housing for female veterans, particularly those suffering from military sexual trauma.

8. Dana describes her leadership style as direct and results-oriented, with a propensity to surround herself with expert teams and adapt plans as needed.

9. A past accomplishment highlighted by Dana was the successful fundraising campaign for the Philadelphia Police Foundation to reintroduce the mounted police, a project initially deemed too expensive.

10. Dana invites listeners to visit to learn how to get involved with the initiative, highlighting the variety of ways support is welcomed, including donations and volunteering.

You can support veterans simply by sharing this post to increase awareness.


How to Develop Getting Stuff Done As a Superpower

Dana describes her superpower this way:

I see a problem. Instead of the problem being the obstacle, the problem becomes the challenge to find a solution. So, in all of my endeavors, whether on the for-profit or nonprofit side, I look at the problem, the issue, and how we resolve that issue. How am I going to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty to be the first one on the front lines to address the issue?

She adds:

I'm not much of a business plan kind of gal because I feel that it puts you in this box of, “Okay, well, here's my business plan that's going to happen in six months, 12 months, 18 months, three years. So, I have to stick to that because that's the plan. 

I'm more of a back-of-a-cocktail-napkin kind of gal that every six months, I have to say, “Okay, well, that didn't work. Let's scratch that off. Let's let's go over here. Let's go over there.” Especially, I would say, in our charity endeavors, it's very organic. You have to be able to reposition on the fly.

She shared an anecdote that typifies the way she gets stuff done. While serving on the Philadelphia Police Foundation, the police commissioner, Charles Ramsey, asked for help bringing back the mounted police.

One board member spoke up to suggest that the challenge was somewhere between silly and impossible, “We’re never going to get that done.” 

Dana says the doers on the board simply said, “Watch us.” Creating a fundraising infrastructure that had never existed in the past and hosting events that had no precedent, they raised the money and brought back the mounted police. They still ride in Philadelphia.

By following Dana’s advice and example, you can make getting stuff done a personal strength. With practice, it could become your superpower, enabling you to do more good in the world.

Remember, however, that research into success suggests that building on your own superpowers is more important than creating new ones or overcoming weaknesses. You do you!

Guest Profile

Dana Spain (she/her):

President, Veterans Villages

About Veterans Villages: Veterans VIllages is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to providing safe and affordable housing for America’s veterans facing conditions of abject poverty and, in many cases, housing insecurity. Our replicable modular construction model ensures that we can expand our reach and impact and create Veterans Villages nationwide. 


X/Twitter: @veterans_v

Company Facebook Page:


Instagram Handle: @veterans_villages

Biographical Information: Dana Spain is the founder and president of Veterans Villages. A serial entrepreneur and philanthropist, Veterans Villages is Spain's third nonprofit following the creation of HAVEN Women in 2016 and the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in 2005. 

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