Visit TJ McAninch and Carol Seissinger’s Sycamore Township home and they will quickly point out item after item they discovered at Building Value. The wonderfully curated collection of antiques and interesting finds creates a cozy warmth in their backyard retreat.
A newer addition to the yard is the cottage, where some of their most prized possessions are on display. It’s a delightful space for conversation or just to relax, with abundant sunlight spilling through the windows. If you are lucky, you might even be treated to a plate of Carol’s scratch-made cookies.
As nurses at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, TJ and Carol were very familiar with Easterseals and its work in disability services. They had no idea that their passion for antiques would lead to a deeper relationship with the organization’s work to lift up those facing economic disadvantages through employment.
It was a coworker at Children’s that first told TJ and Carol about Building Value and its ever-changing inventory of architectural items salvaged from Cincinnati homes. “I said, ‘where is that, because I must go immediately,” jokes TJ.
TJ loves a bargain. One of her first questions about the store was whether prices were negotiable, but learning the purpose of Building Value changed her outlook. “When I found out it was [raising money for] Easterseals, I usually doubled everything they had on it,” she says with a laugh.
The up-negotiating even played out when TJ spotted her most favorite Building Value find: an oversized metal M&Ms candy that became Carol’s 70th birthday present. This discovery was all about being in the right place at the right time.
“I was holding the door open for a guy who was coming in with something wrapped up in a sheet, and it looked heavy,” TJ recalls. “The guy said I’m donating this, my boss told me to drop it off here and left.”
When the covering came off to reveal a giant, golden “M”, TJ was immediately drawn to it. She asked the store manager to set a price.
“He goes, how about $15? And I said, I can’t do $15. Well, what do you think about $10? I said, well, I was thinking more like $25, and he goes OH! Okay, that’s fine!”
Not only are TJ and Carol exceptionally generous when they “negotiate,” they are also true ambassadors in encouraging others to make their own Building Value discoveries.
“We’re always telling somebody you need to go,” Carol says. “We usually get a call back within a few days and they say that is the coolest place. They love going there.”
Part of the magic of Building Value for Carol and TJ is the history within each item. When the origin isn’t known, imagination takes over.
“You do wonder where these things came from,” Carol muses. “The hands that held them. All the wood that’s in the kiln – whose houses were those? Who walked on it? What history was made on it?”
Some pieces speak to their own family memories, like a painted tunnel from a model railroad that Carol and TJ spotted at Building Value’s annual Northside Flea.
“My father was Choctaw Indian. He was born on a reservation in Oklahoma,” says TJ who loved toy trains as a child. “My grandfather was working on the railroad out west. My grandmother was on the reservation, and the women would serve food to the guys working on the railroad, and that’s how they met.”
It’s not just the merchandise that draws TJ and Carol to Building Value. It’s also the mission. Shopping there supports Easterseals workforce development initiatives, including the successful construction pathway.
Much of the inventory at Building Value is salvaged by the store’s deconstruction teams. The paid positions give people who have struggled to find employment an introduction to in-demand construction careers. The crews can be contracted by property owners to take down entire structures or demo specific rooms within a home.
The deconstruction process is more methodical than demolition with a wrecking ball. The focus is on salvaging reusable building materials and reducing construction waste going into local landfills. It’s a lot of labor, but the payoff is great. Building Value trainees often have jobs waiting for them once they complete the program through a partnership with Messer Construction and its subcontractors.
What makes the Building Value program successful is its approach to case management. The trainees often face barriers to employment such as lack of transportation, inadequate housing or homelessness, child care issues, or not completing high school. Easterseals helps the trainees manage and overcome these barriers while building up their skills so they are prepared to move into permanent, higher paying jobs.
Store sales are reinvested back into the deconstruction program, but philanthropy is critical to sustain it and expand the impact.
TJ and Carol made their first gift to purchase new tools for the deconstruction program. They saw an opportunity to make a larger impact in 2019 when a brand new electric bike bought as a birthday present was going unused.
“[TJ] said you know, I’m not going to ride this bike. I hate to waste it,” Carol remembers. At the same time, Easterseals Annual Giving Leader Lauran McHaffie mentioned looking for something like a bike to raffle for Building Value. “When we got home we said, what about that bike in the basement? Why don’t we donate it?”
Tickets for the electric bike, complete with Bosch battery and a helmet donated by Jim’s Bicycle Shop, went fast! TJ and Carol’s gift ended up raising more than $6,000.
“The day we went to pick the winning ticket, I couldn’t believe all the people that were there,” Carol said. “It makes you feel part of the process, and that you’re really contributing and that you do make a difference.”
“As nurses, we saw a lot of things that need to be fixed in all of the systems that we have. They’re not perfect, but people are always striving to make them better,” Carol said. “We were part of that for 40 years or more at work, and we’ve kind of continued to feel that way about contributing to our community.”
What is especially fitting about TJ and Carol’s nursing careers at Cincinnati Children’s is the connection that Easterseals and Building Value have to the future of the hospital campus. Building Value graduates continue their training on the Critical Care Building expansion led by Messer Construction. Messer, Children’s, and Easterseals have set a goal of connecting 50 people facing economic challenges to sustainable careers in the construction industry by July 2021.
“We love Building Value. I’m a firm believer in it,” Carol said. “I will be shopping there until I can’t shop anymore. It’s the first place I go before I head to a hardware store. You never know what you’re going to find.”
Building Value is located at 4040 Spring Grove Avenue in Cincinnati’s historic Northside neighborhood. Learn more at BuildingValue.org