An Interview with Jim and Donna Piscopo
Jim and Donna Piscopo are the co-founders of Bridging Arizona, a non-profit dedicated to improving veterans’ lives one bed at a time. For over 20 years, the Piscopos have developed a grassroots model providing donated furniture, both new and gently used, to the large population of veterans who need it. Extending a compassionate helping hand to the members of our one human family who are struggling with the specific challenges of being a military veteran is a cause close to the Piscopos’ hearts. Jim’s passion for serving the veteran community connects with his own status as a veteran of the US Air Force.
After joining Saint Barnabas in 1998 and both going on to complete the four-year Education for Ministry program soon thereafter, Jim and Donna became aware of a Minnesota organization called Bridging, providing furniture assistance to homeless families. At the same time, Jim noted that the local domestic violence shelter where he helped out had a specific need for furniture – so much so that they even started requiring dedicated storage space for it. When the survivors of domestic violence were ready to move out and begin living independently, Jim came to understand that they needed help getting set up with the furniture, equipment and home effects that so many of us take for granted.
As Jim and Donna continued to deepen their involvement with Saint Barnabas, they also forged stronger ties with the veteran assistance community. Bishop Kirk Smith granted permission to use the Episcopal shield on their promotional materials – parishioner Dave Carmichael incorporated the effort – and Bridging Arizona, Inc. was born. More recently, it was even honored as a Jubilee Ministry of the Episcopal Church.
Jim’s observation is that when homeless veterans are handed a new apartment or condo just to get them off the streets, they continue to lack purpose, drive and motivation after move-in, and their lives continue to lack forward momentum. By contrast, when these same veterans are given the opportunity to work as well as provided with housing, the renewed purpose and meaning that the work brings to their lives is the driving force behind getting them “back on their feet” in a lasting way. Over the years, Jim has explored and developed multiple ways to provide meaningful work and occupation for veterans.
One such outlet developed through Bridging Arizona is the Veterans Furniture Project (VFP), which stemmed from Jim’s own love of woodworking. Having bought himself a wood-turning lathe, Jim created a single pen as a Christmas present for Donna. The pen came out so beautifully that it inspired Jim to invest in five additional lathes, in order to give veterans the chance to learn the craft for themselves. Every veteran that comes through the VFP program may make two pens on the lathe: one to keep for themselves, and the second to be sold for fundraising to sustain the program. Some veterans make only the two pens, while others are inspired to make over a dozen.
Fast forward a few years and Jim has now purchased five shipping containers (yes, you read that right!), which he has used a plasma cutter to transform into self-contained workshops for woodworking. While a little hot in the summer (!), the containers provide a three-season teaching location where veterans can expand their practical skill sets. Corporate partnerships with major companies including Amazon and Intel have developed to help fund the VFP and many other aspects of Bridging Arizona’s work.
As the organization continues to grow, there are manifold ways to get involved with this ministry. Much of Jim and Donna’s work involves connecting the many moving parts of the organization’s efforts with the people-power of volunteers. For example, Bridging Arizona runs a furniture store in downtown Scottsdale called Got Legs (a name inspired, like so many great ideas, by a good conversation over a good glass of wine!). The store sells a variety of beautifully reconditioned furniture, with a storage space recently added to house the huge number of donated items that pass through the non-profit each month.
The store is entirely volunteer-run, and this is one of the many areas YOU can get involved! Donna emphasizes that the store needs volunteers in two main areas: artistic vision and MUSCLE! (If you happen to have both of these gifts, you need to get in touch: Donna may be rather happy to speak with you!) The store is seeking volunteers for four-hour shifts, either curating the selected wares on the shop floor in attractive, artistic ways, or moving large items of furniture on a daily basis. There are also ongoing needs for cleaning, dusting and general store upkeep.
Jim can’t emphasize enough how the work done at Bridging Arizona benefits the volunteers who provide the assistance, as well as the recipients of the help. Always had an artistic flair but feel stuck in finding an outlet? Why not try renovating and decorating furniture to give it a second life for veterans in need? During the pandemic, Jim and Donna began delivering used furniture to volunteers’ homes, to be renovated on the volunteers’ own timeline and ultimately resold in the store.
Whatever you can do and whatever four-hour blocks of time you can give, the Piscopos want YOU! Contact Jim and Donna today to get involved.
Currently, Got Legs has a $20,000 challenge Grant for the Tax Credit that started October 1, 2022. If you donate your Arizona Tax Credit ($400 per person) – you will receive a State Tax Credit for your donation and we will receive the $400 PLUS an additional $400 from our challenge grant and it cost you NOTHING to support a grassroots nonprofit. To learn more and Donate, click here.
Find Bridging Arizona alongside dozens of other local missions and ministry programs at the upcoming Saint Barnabas Missions & Ministries Festival. You’ll have the opportunity to meet Jim and Donna and ask your questions about their mission in person, as well as of course signing up to volunteer!
Article Written by Amber Leima
Photos by Scott Williams
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