Fort Bragg volunteers give back to women veterans
December 3, 2010
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - It was a perfect North Carolina fall day, the sun was shining, the temperature was a perfect 60 degrees, and it was a holiday - Veterans Day. While most servicemembers and their Families were out enjoying their long weekend, about 50 Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, Sailors and Family members of Joint Special Operations Command enjoyed the day in an unconventional manner - by refurbishing a home.
Not just any home but a special one called the Jubilee House that is to house homeless veteran women and their children.
The Veterans Day project was lead by Sgt. Maj. Randy Williams, JSOC, who gathered a team of Families and government civilians. Under his guidance, the team painted, plastered, installed insulation, put up shingles, fixed the roof and the chimney, laid flooring, replaced light fixtures and landscaped the garden.
"I read about it in the newspaper about five days ago and thought it would be great if we could get volunteers out there to help fix the place up," he said.
"The first sergeants contacted the troops and the Family readiness groups by email and the next thing you know, we had servicemembers here from all four services, Family members and GS (government service) civilians. The thing is, this is a community effort to help veterans," Williams said.
"Help-U-Sell (a local real estate agency) donated all the materials to refurbish the house - all the paint, brushes, supplies, siding, paneling, insulation and they delivered the materials to the house. We also had servicemembers and civilians donate the plants for the landscaping," he said.
The idea of a place where homeless female veterans could go with their children while trying to get back on their feet was the dream of one woman - Barbara Summey Marshall, a 15-year Navy veteran and former chaplain.
"On or about 2005, I went through a very, very difficult period in my life. I needed a lot of support from my community. Afterwards, I figured it was my turn to support others," she said.
Marshall used her savings to buy a small, three-bedroom cottage on Langdon Street in Fayetteville because she said she saw a need to help the homeless, especially female veterans.
"I am struck by the number of women with children who are homeless. Sometimes the children end up in custody or shuffled away with relatives. I know of a homeless woman with two kids who is sofa surfing right now ... that's no way to live," she said.
Marshall said she understands the challenges she faces as far as operating the home on a day-to-day basis.
The former Navy chaplain has come up with a three-prong plan to support her project. First, she said she will seek the support of the many community agencies that help homeless people in general.
Second, Marshall said she will apply for grants that are part of the Continuum of Care that is a 10-year plan to end homelessness. She also plans to seek help and funding from the local Veterans' Administration because of their interest in ending homelessness among veterans. And third, Marshall plans to hold fundraisers and get local sponsorship. She said ideally she would like to see a Fort Bragg unit or local agency adopt the home and help out on a regular basis.
But how does a person who has served his or her country end up homeless' According to Angelete Harris, it isn't hard. Harris, a Navy veteran who served for six and a half years plus two years in the Reserves is currently homeless. She was living in Maryland and teaching at a private technical school that closed. Harris moved to Fayetteville with her two children ages 13 and 16. When she got sick and her insurance company wouldn't cover her savings were quickly depleted and on Oct. 8, she was evicted from her apartment. Harris placed her children with relatives and has since been sleeping in her car and working odd jobs during the day to support herself.
"I'm ineligible for social services because my kids aren't living with me in my car. A lot of people think homeless (people) are on drugs and alcohol or are into crime, but I've worked hard all my life and I've never been in trouble ... it's just very hard," said Harris. "I volunteer here with Miss Marshall with technical support. We plan to train the women who come through the house in computer technology to prepare them for jobs," said.
As for those who formed part of Williams' team, they all seemed to have the same message - helping others, especially veterans.
"We wanted to give back and say 'thank you' to our veterans. Being a female, allows me to contribute to women who are less fortunate," said Donnamarie Flores, a Family member of a retiree.
"Help-U-Sell is a military-owned business and we wanted to get this home ready for the women veterans and their children so they have a place to call home and help provide them a new start on life," said Melanie Sather, owner of Help-U-Sell.
Marshall may be hedging her bets with the little cottage on Langdon Street, hoping that society will become more aware and sensitive to the growing social problem that is homelessness.