All posts by Casey DiCicco

Soldier On receives $150,000 grant from the Home Depot Foundation

Leeds, MA ─ Soldier On has been awarded a $150,000 grant from The Home Depot Foundation. This funding is part of the $80 million pledge that The Home Depot Foundation has taken to go towards veterans’ housing needs.

“The Home Depot Foundation is committed to ensuring that every veteran has a safe place to call home,” said Kelly Caffarelli, President of The Home Depot Foundation. “We are proud to work with Soldier On as part of our efforts to give back to those men and women who have so bravely served our country.”

Soldier On is dedicated to providing housing and supportive services to homeless veterans. The $150,000 grant from The Home Depot Foundation will go towards the new Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community that is being built on the Veterans Administration campus in Leeds. This limited-equity cooperative will consist of 44 permanent housing units for formerly homeless  veterans. The community, modeled after the 39 units of permanent housing built by Soldier On in 2010, represents the final step in the fight against veteran homelessness.

“Soldier On will continue to ‘change the end of the story’ for homeless veterans with the assistance of  organizations who are committed to the mission of making sure every veteran has the opportunity to live his or her life to their highest level of potential,” said John Downing, President and CEO of Soldier On. “We are very grateful that The Home Depot Foundation has been able to extend its generosity and thoughtfulness to the particular veterans that Soldier On serves.”

The Home Depot Foundation is committed to assisting veterans and their families that face major challenges, including housing, unemployment or disabilities. This grant reflects the pledge that the foundation has taken help ensure that all veterans have a safe place to call home. The Home Depot Foundation has committed $80 million over the next five years to this effort.

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Soldier On provides safe affordable housing to homeless veterans, including permanent limited-equity ownership units at the Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community in Pittsfield, MA. The Mansfield Community serves as a national model as Soldier On actively seeks to extend its successful veterans’ programs to communities throughout the United States.

 About The Home Depot Foundation

The Home Depot Foundation is dedicated to improving the homes of U.S. military veterans through financial and volunteer resources to help nonprofit organizations. The Foundation has committed $80 million to these efforts over five years.

Through Team Depot, the company’s associate-led volunteer program, thousands of Home Depot associates volunteer their time and talents to positively transform neighborhoods and perform basic repairs and modifications to homes and facilities serving veterans with critical housing needs.

Since its formation in 2002, The Home Depot Foundation has granted more than $340 million to nonprofit organizations improving homes and lives in local communities. To learn more and see our associates in action, visit www.homedepotfoundation.org.

 

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Women vets navigate benefits, PTSD, homelessness

BOSTON (WWLP) – When Fannie Houck was discharged from the navy in 1976, she survived a sexual assault and a helicopter incident that left her disabled and emotionally scarred.

“My PTSD just took over my life and I became homeless,” said Houck.

She applied for help at the Veterans Affairs Department, but navigating the maze of benefits and programs is difficult.

“In 1977, I tried to get services and was told you didn’t have programs like that for women… You reach out for help you don’t get the help… And I feel this is often where suicides come from.”

A 2010 Portland State University study found that women veterans were three times as likely as civilians to commit suicide.  This is partly why women veterans are kicking off their first State House Advocacy Day – To talk about issues facing women vets and provide a place for them to organize and seek help.

“Our goal is to help reach out to the women who are still seeking services, looking for women leaders to direct them,” said Dna. Maria St. Catherine McConnell, the commissioner of the Boston Commission on Women Veterans.

Fannie eventually found shelter at the Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Leeds and is now on a path to emotional and physical recovery through the Soldier On women’s program. Still, Fannie admits it’s difficult for women vets to seek help.

“The types of personalities that we as women have…We’re the ones who will sign that piece of paper and say that we’ll die for you,” said Fannie.  “It’s that same kind of mentality that keeps us from going to keep up the fight getting help for ourselves.”

Women vets say it’s important for their peers to fight together – Their next major meeting is the Massachusetts Conference for Women Veterans at Boston’s UMass campus Saturday.

Read the Article on 22 News Here: http://www.wwlp.com/dpp/news/politics/state_politics/wwlp-women-vets-navigate-benefits-ptsd-homelessness-cl

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Community for homeless vets planned for Fort Monmouth

BY NICOLE ANTONUCCI

Staff Writer

A five-year plan to provide a community for homeless veterans at Fort Monmouth is coming to fruition with the recent designation of a 10-acre parcel on Eatontown’s area of the fort.

Members of the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) approved a resolution to offer the parcel, known as Parcel VI, for purchase at the May 15 board meeting with the specific purpose of establishing a community specifically for at-risk veterans.

“We think that this can be a terrific project that can offer many veterans who may have had some hard luck — a good way to become part of the community, to grow and prosper,” Bruce Steadman, executive director of FMERA, said following the meeting.

According to the Fort Monmouth Reuse Plan, the property is currently slated as open space, and use as a veterans’ community would require a plan amendment.

Steadman said that FMERA staff has been looking at various parcels on Fort Monmouth for the past two years in search of a convenient location for the planned use.

“There have been discussions with Tinton Falls and Oceanport about possible sites and even other sites in Eatontown … this is probably the best parcel size that is not bounded by other homes or other significant aspects of the community,” he said. “We felt that there would be some insulation and some recreational areas for the veterans to use so that they would feel comfortable. It’s consistent with projects that we have seen out of the state.”

The vacant parcel, previously used recreational activities, is located along Alexander Avenue on the Main Post in Eatontown and is bound by the Monmouth County motor pool, the former Lane Hall and a small lake.

Monmouth County Freeholder Lillian Burry, a member of FMERA and chairwoman of the Veterans Advisory Committee, said that the project has been in the planning stages for at least five years.

“This is a giant step forward, and we are on the go now,” Burry said.

“There is nothing in Monmouth County like this, and it’s very much needed.”

According to FMERA, there are as many as 10,000 to 20,000 homeless veterans living in New Jersey, and Burry said more than 500 live in Monmouth County.

According to the resolution, each offer to purchase the property will be evaluated according to specific criteria, including the type, size, configuration and materials of the proposed buildings; the size, floor plan and amenities associated with individual living units; and the proposed management plan for the community, including the extent to which the veterans themselves would have input or responsibility.

Other criteria includes the extent to which individual resident veterans may pay rent or own equity in the project, the project’s potential for helping to address the fort’s affordable housing and homeless assistance obligations, and other guidelines.

Soldier On, a Massachusetts based nonprofit, has expressed interest in financing and constructing such a project on the fort, Burry said.

In August 2012, Soldier On announced that a $1 million federal grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs Supportive Services for Veterans’ Families (SSVF) grant program would be used to provide services for underserved veterans in Monmouth County.

Jack Downing, CEO of Soldier On, said the program would be implemented in two phases: installing case managers to gather information about veterans’ needs; and building transitional, low-income housing for homeless veterans at Fort Monmouth.

At the time, Downing said discussions were ongoing with FMERA, and the nonprofit was also working with AcuteCare Health System, a Lakewood-based health services company that will occupy the former Patterson Army Health Clinic building on the fort grounds in Oceanport.

Currently, Soldier On operates in two locations: a 165-bed shelter in two buildings leased from the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System in Leeds, Mass., and the Berkshire Veterans Residence in Pittsfield, Mass., a transitional living facility

Burry confirmed that Soldier On is still an interested party, but said FMERA must consider all proposals.

No matter who occupies the site, Burry is confident that the veterans community would be a beneficial addition to the fort.

“It’s a good location, and it’s also close to the county’s properties that we have there. It’s easily accessible since it’s near the main road. You can walk to the medical center from the site,” she said.

“I am sure that it will grow beyond the homeless and will address the needs of the veterans in general. I am looking forward to the next step, and that is for the [request for proposals] to get out there, get the proper responses and to digging the first hole.”

Click here to see the article on The Hub

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New Director Chosen For Women’s Wellness Center

Virginia Lieblein has been appointed as the new Director of Wellness for the Soldier On Women’s Program Wellness Center.  Virginia comes to Soldier On after serving as Director of Wellness for Emerson Hospital for 8 years.  With a strong background in creative program management and development as well as networking and proficient computer skills, Virginia has both the skill level and experience to bring the Wellness Center dream to reality.

Virginia will be working closely with the Soldier On Women’s Program team to bring health and wellness experiences to the women veterans who reside in our transitional program.  Encompassing “mind, body and spirit” the program will enhance the residents’ lives by giving them the chance to try different exercise experiences including yoga, walking, running and aerobics.  Classes offering a wide array of creative experiences such as jewelry design, painting, silk screening, scrap-booking and wood burning will be offered.  Virginia’s main goal will be to analyze each resident’s schedule and give her the opportunity to try new experiences that will open doors for employment, reengagement with family and general all-around happiness and fulfillment.

Please join the Women’s Program team in welcoming Virginia to the Soldier On family.  We can all benefit from embracing a life of health and wellness!

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Agawam board approves changes to veterans housing project

AGAWAM – The Planning Board has approved changes to Soldier On’s $12 million veterans housing project proposed for the former state police training academy building. They are needed for the Northampton organization’s project for low- and moderate-income veterans to conform to Massachusetts Historical Commission standards. “Overall, we’re very happy to have them (Soldier On) in the community. We were very happy to accommodate them,” Planning Board Chairman Travis P. Ward said Friday. The changes will reduce the number of its housing units from 54 to 53 and were approved by the Planning Board by a 4-0 vote Thursday. The board voted after hearing a presentation by Soldier On’s consultant on the project, engineer James M. Scalise II of SK Design Group Inc. of Pittsfield. He explained that the modifications are needed as a result of a detailed review of the former state police training academy building on South Westfield Street by the state historical commission. It has oversight of the project because the structure, which was built at the turn of the 20th century, is believed to have historic value. Plans call for revamping the building and constructing an addition. Steven E. Como, Soldier On’s executive vice president, said Friday that a groundbreaking could take place as early as late spring or early summer. The next major hurdle will be getting tax credits for the project through the National Park Service and the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development as it will be government-subsidized housing for low- and moderate-income veterans. The changes authorized by the Planning Board must also be approved by the Board of Appeals. It will take up the matter when it meets Jan. 14. In a letter to the Planning Board, Scalise explained that changes are needed to preserve the former state police training academy’s first floor lobby, which is considered to be historic. The state has also required that the second-floor stage and auditorium be preserved and that the roof top on the proposed addition be lowered so as not to detract from the main building. Designs have also been altered so that the addition will not be visible from the road, In addition, changes have been made to the layouts of the units and the kitchen, and the rear entrance has been modified. The new site plan will result in about 600 more square feet of paved area than what the Planning Board allowed in the earlier site plan for the project. However, the new site plan will result in 160 square feet less paved area than currently exists.

Read the full article here.

 

 

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Solider On proves good landing spot for Air Force vet

Air Force veteran Daniel Rine’s long travels have finally ended at a condominium in Pittsfield, shared with roommates and managed by the veteran support nonprofit Soldier On.

On Christmas, the 34-year-old New York native was cooking food for 100 veterans. He assisted in the preparation of the prime rib and ham, and he worked with a staff of about a half dozen to provide an orderly Christmas dinner.

“I have a reason to try and be successful and a means to do it,” said Rine, who couldn’t always say that.

“We’ve all seen worse than just the military,” said former Navy veteran and kitchen assistant chef Mike Davidson, who spoke while Rine attended to his duties on Tuesday afternoon.”No one comes here without a problem.”

Rine is still young, but he’s already dealt with a lifetime full of personal challenges.

He enlisted in the Air Force after graduating from high school, following in the footsteps of family members. He served a tour of duty at the Air Force base in Aviano, Italy, but was discharged after breaking down from the stress and homesickness.

Rine temporarily lived with family members in California and New York before moving on. He boarded public transit, rode out of New York and arrived in Springfield by chance more than planning.

Admittedly lost in life, Rine said he started walking the Massachusetts Turnpike toward Palmer before a police officer spotted him and provided him a ride the rest of the way.

Over a five-year period life started to come together in central Massachusetts. He got a full-time job repairing air-conditioning units. He found love and got married. Then came the Great Recession. He lost his job.

A divorce followed and Rine said he arrived at Soldier On an emotional wreck.

“I was devastated,” Rine said of the divorce’s impact. “I was a mess.”

The Air Force once provided for his needs. Now, he was living on his own, and reeling from personal turmoil. He needed some support.

Soldier On provided it and imbued him with purpose.

Over the last three years, Rine said he’s gone from the transitional shelter to an independent-living condo.

He worked on the volunteer desk and then on the construction team, but he is most passionate about his current job in the kitchen.

Rine believes he has the tools to improve his life further.

To contact John Sakata:
jsakata@berkshireeagle.com
or  (413) 496-6240

Read the article from the Berkshire Eagle: http://www.berkshireeagle.com/ci_22260017/solider-proves-good-landing-spot-air-force-vet

 

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Veterans enjoy Christmas meals as they leave past behind

PITTSFIELD — Stomachs full after Christmas dinner in the dining hall at Soldier On, military veterans Jeff Harman and Ira Studley laconically shared the perilous road that made their simple meals worth savoring.

No one comes to Soldier On, a private nonprofit organization that provides resources and supports for homeless veterans, without a problem to overcome, the day’s chef, Navy veteran Mike Davidson said.

On Christmas Day, Harman and Studley both said they felt they had escaped death to enjoy this meal.

While finishing with pumpkin pie and chocolate brittle, after a hearty meal of prime rib, Harman, 53, talked about dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts in the years following his discharge from the Navy and reserves after 19 years.

Harman said he was let go because of “politics” and because he was overweight.

“I was 285 when I went in and I left at 285,” Harman said.

Studley, 67, said he’s been with the Soldier On program since Jan. 23, 2009. The Army veteran, who served from 1962-65, arrived after he hit life’s bottom. He was reluctantly divorced, had a gambling addiction, and was homeless after losing his house.

After some thought, Studley said that if he wasn’t at Soldier On he’d probably be dead.

Harman said the same was true for him.

However, on Christmas, both veterans said that while they continue to deal with problems, they felt some of the worst is in the rearview mirror and they were putting some distance between themselves and their troubled pasts.

Harman is happily serving as a baker at Soldier On, fulfilling a similar role he assumed in the Navy. He said he’s submitted an application to be head chef at a Soldier On facility in Agawam.

Studley said he’s stopped gambling and embraced Christianity and the church.

There was plenty of friendly chatter, warm gestures and appreciation shared on Christmas by troubled veterans, who were appreciative of a warm meal and friendly embraces from colleagues who understand life carries challenges.

“I would rather be here rather than anywhere else,” said Navy veteran William Relation, who served from 1975-79.

Davidson, the cook, said he expected to serve 100 instead of the 65 to 85 meals he normally serves.

Pittsfield American Legion Post 68 also had a well-attended dinner for veterans. Army veteran Robert Adams was one of several volunteers lending a helping hand in the kitchen.

He said he was treated for alcohol addiction last year, but now has his own apartment through the federal Section 8 program, and is enjoying a better life.

Through life’s darkness, joys became sweeter, something Adams said he understood and many other veterans knew well.

To contact John Sakata:
jsakata@berkshireeagle.com
or  (413) 496-6240

See the article on Berkshire Eagle: http://www.berkshireeagle.com/ci_22260024/veterans-enjoy-christmas-meals-they-leave-past-behind

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Soldier On veterans get early gifts of food and clothing from BRTA holiday drive

PITTSFIELD — Even more important than presents, some veterans received ample food and other gifts following a Berkshire Regional Transit Authority holiday gift drive.

For the third year, BRTA accepted donations, such as food or clothes, in lieu of “B” bus fares during the first two weeks of December. The donations are then given to the veterans at Soldier On, the veterans support service organization.

BRTA Director of Administration Tami Larimore said the donations this year nearly doubled what was received three years ago. This year, 675 donations were received, while 348 donations were received in 2010.

“[The drive is] for those that have given so much, lost so much, and live with so little,” said Larimore, who created the program after seeing ample programs supporting children, but little to support those who served the country.

“Christmas is not only for children, but all of us,” she added.

Box after box of canned foods, which included everything from soup, corn, and spaghetti and meatballs, and some hand-knit clothes were packed in boxes by volunteers before being taken to Soldier On on West Housatonic Street for distribution.

Soldier On provides food for about 50 families on a weekly basis, a representative said.

This year’s drive was dedicated to former Army veteran Lenny Costa, who died of cancer in the spring after gaining employment at BRTA as a compliance inspector through a Soldier On program.

Larimore said that even though Costa had only worked for BRTA for about half a year before he died, he was quickly embraced.

“He left a mark in half a year that many won’t leave in 20 years,” Larimore said.

Nuclea Biotechnologies and the national nonprofit Disabled American Veterans also provided gift cards.

Read the full article here: http://www.berkshireeagle.com/ci_22228722/solider-veterans-get-early-gifts-food-and-clothing

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Soldier On fundraiser aims to help homeless veterans

PLYMOUTH – New Hampshire’s Soldier On project, which is working to find permanent housing for homeless veterans, will kick off its fundraising effort at an event Nov. 29 at the Common Man Inn and Spa.

Soldier On is a nationally recognized nonprofit organization that works with the Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies to provide veterans with shelter and support in an environment that offers dignity, integrity and hope.

The organization’s mission is to offer a permanent source of care for veterans that includes immediate and long-term housing with services delivered where they live. The project is designed to assist them in their transition from homelessness to homeownership.

The event will formally mark the beginning of a fundraising effort for Soldier On’s first New Hampshire permanent housing community, said Cathy Bentwood, director of the Bridge House Homeless shelter in Plymouth and a member of the local Soldier On leadership team.

The project has had strong local support from veterans, business leaders and state and federal political leaders, all of whom are committed to providing the kinds of services and assistance that veterans themselves say they need and want, Bentwood said.

The goal is to alleviate the problem of homeless veterans in the North Country and statewide, she said.

The group is planning a veterans’ housing facility in Holderness, though details of the project are still being worked out.

“It’s an honor to be part of Soldier On’s New Hampshire initiative,” Bentwood said. “Soldier On is ahead of the curve in solving this problem.”

Local Soldier On team members have been meeting this fall with potential contributors to the project. Those meetings went well, and there is now a more detailed project plan, which will be shared at the event, she said.

The goal for Phase 1 of the fundraising project is $75,000, which will cover the predevelopment costs.

Common Man owner Alex Ray has offered a 1-to-1 match for the first $25,000 committed.

The event will begin with a reception at 6 p.m. and will feature remarks by Jack Downing, president and CEO of Soldier On, as well as members of the New Hampshire leadership team.

Those wishing to attend or seeking more information may call 536-3720 or email kristine@lruw.org. Gifts of all sizes will be accepted.

Read the article here: http://www.unionleader.com/article/20121122/NEWHAMPSHIRE09/121129657

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Former Chapin School in Chicopee to be used for veterans’ housing

CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – A former Chicopee school will soon serve as affordable housing for veterans who were once homeless.

Soldier On plans to turn the old Chapin School on Meadow Street in Willimansett into a housing complex. The facility will include several living units, along with veterans’ services.

John Downing, President of Soldier On told 22News that we owe it to veterans to provide them with a place to live.

“Everybody that is a veteran, everyone that has ever put on the American military uniform has said to you and me ‘I will die for you,’ and we don’t clearly hear that, and we thought if the people who have said ‘I will die for you’ and give us their life, should be able to own where they live which will stabilize their lives,” Downing said.

The plan is also a win for Chicopee; it will be the first time the building is on the tax rolls, and it will bring in an extra $30,000 a year in property taxes for the city.

Soldier On has facilities in Pittsfield and Northampton, and is planning on adding housing for veterans at the site of the former State Police Academy in Agawam.

Read the full story 

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