News

Colonie Central High School Dedicates Day to Service Men and Women

On Saturday, May 21st Colonie Central High School held the 3rd Annual Raiderfest organized by their very own iCare team. Raiderfest is an all day event with the intent of uniting the local community. iCare operates on the core values of integrity, Community, Accountability, Respect and Empathy with the purpose of uniting the entire population of Colonie.

The day started out with a ceremony dedicated to the men and women of the U.S. armed forces and the induction of the “Hill of Heroes”. This memorial includes a 400-pound steel American flag along with granite blocks paying tribute to the five branches of military. The project was spearheaded by John Lawlor, a Colonie High student who graduates this year. Lawlor’s father, also a Colonie graduate, is in the Air Force. Lawlor said he came up with the idea to better recognize the sacrifices of those like his father who serve their country.

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Hill of Heroes

This school year iCare is focusing on educating and raising awareness for the active service men and women, as well as veterans. The money that was raised from this year’s event will be donated to Solider On, Blue Star Mothers of America Inc., and The American Gold Star Mothers Inc. At the dedication ceremony Dominick Sondrini, Soldier On’s Field Supervisor, spoke on behalf Soldier On. Sondrini shared the various programs that Solider On offers throughout the area. He also thanked the iCare team, Colonie Central High School, and Lawlor for their commitment to bring veteran awareness to their community.

Dominick Sondrini, Field Supervisor

Dominick Sondrini, Field Supervisor

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Success Story – Jane Geary

Jane Geary is a veteran of the United States Navy. She is a graduate of the Soldier On Women’s program, and she has made remarkable progress in her time there.

Two Years ago, Jane’s world changed forever. Her husband of 18 years died which left a seemingly insurmountable emotional void in her life.  Like many others who are faced with tragedy, she turned to alcohol to fill this void. As she continued to spiral downward she found herself being treated for substance abuse at Heywood Hospital in Gardner, Massachusetts. She was then admitted to the VA Hospital in New Bedford, MA where she was referred to the Soldier On’s Women program.

Though Jane eventually embraced and excelled in the program, the transition was very difficult. According to Jane, she spent the majority of her first 45 nights at Soldier On up all night depressed and crying, and would sleep during the day to get away from her problems. Soldier On’s relentless support during her difficult transition laid the ground work for her future success.

“Soldier On accepted me unconditionally, no matter how much I cried early on.”

Gradually, Jane became more comfortable in the program and began to actively participate. She realized how effective the resources at her disposal could be if properly utilized. Instead of focusing on the substance abuse issue on its surface, she was taking steps to treat the underlying problem as she was suffering from PTSD. This was caused by several events including child hood trauma, Military Sexual trauma, and the death of her husband.  She found utilizing Prolonged Exposure therapy, a method of therapy where the traumatic event is re-experienced through conversation instead of avoiding the memory, was a game changer in managing her PTSD.

Goal setting became an effective tool for staying on track and focused. She set several goals for herself including; attending AA meetings, buying her own car, staying engaged on a daily basis, and her ultimate goal of getting an apartment in the community to live on her own. By utilizing services assisting wellness and finance she accomplished these goals.

When Jane first came into the program she was not utilizing any of her VA benefits. With the help of program director, Sara Scoco and wellness director, Stephanie Ovitt, Jane was given the resources to become 100 Percent service connected which put her at a point where she had enough income to afford to live in an apartment on her own and purchase a car.

Jane was successfully discharged from Soldier On Saturday, May 7th to move into her own apartment in Leeds, Massachusetts. She will continue to be involved in the women’s program by serving as a mentor and attending alumni events. All of her hard work in the program has set her up for sustained success in the community.

“I really owe it all to Soldier On, they love you until you can love yourself. When you walk through the door Soldier On gives you hope, and if you choose to accept their help you will grow into a different person.”

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Soldier On’s Agawam Housing Project Featured In Western MA News

Former police academy to become housing for veterans

AGAWAM, MA (WGGB/WSHM) –

Western Mass News – WGGB/WSHM

A former police training academy in Feeding Hills will be the future site of 51-units of housing for veterans.

The project just got a big lift with the announcement that Springfield Citizens Bank is providing 10-million dollars in construction financing.

Veterans like Pepito Caballero, the general manager of Soldier On says the need is great,” There’s a lot of homeless veterans out there looking for help,” said Caballero.

He credits Soldier On with helping him turn his life around, ” They helped me a lot, they gave me the opportunity to stay out of trouble, not being homeless,” said Caballero.

More veterans will have the same opportunity as Caballero thanks to the conversion of the former police training academy in Feeding Hills into housing for veterans.

Gary Shepard is the president and chief operating officer of Soldier On, “Veterans are two to three times more likely to be homeless than any other segment of our population so providing homes for veterans who are homeless are critical to their advancement and development in re-adapting them to the community,” said Shepard.

The key to the Soldier On Project is not only to get veterans a place to live but provide them with services they need as well to move forward with their lives.

Besides the 10-million dollars in construction financing from Springfield Citizens Bank, other sources of funding have come from historic tax credits, low income housing credits, and state funding.

Total price tag nearly 24-million dollars.

And veterans will enjoy pride of ownership,” It is limited equity type of housing where the veterans actually own their units, and the nice thing about this they will be paying taxes to the community of Agawam on these units, so they take pride in home ownership,” said Gary Shepard.

The units should be ready for occupancy in about a year and a half.

Copyright 2016 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

 

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Soldier On Furniture Fundraiser!

 

Soldier On Furniture Fundraiser

In June, 44 formerly homeless veterans will be moving into Soldier On’s new Gordon H. Mansfield (GHM) Veterans Community in Leeds, MA. This limited-equity cooperative is modeled after Soldier On’s successful Pittsfield GHM Veterans Community and features beautiful, sustainable, LEED Gold certified design and serves as permanent housing that is owned and operated by the veterans living within it. Soldier On provides direct services to each resident of the cooperative such as case management, counseling, addictions support, transportation and employment training and assistance.

Today, the veterans of Soldier On need your help! We are asking that friends of our organization donate or fundraise so that we can purchase furniture for each of the 44 new homeowners. Each room will cost $2,500 and will include bedroom, kitchen and living room furniture – everything necessary for veterans to feel comfortable and established in a new home.

We would like to give supporters the opportunity to memorialize a loved one in this initiative! Funders who donate or are able to raise $2,500 through Crowdrise will be given the opportunity to name a unit of this new cooperative in memory of a friend or loved one. The name will be proudly displayed on the door of the unit they fund!

If you would like to join the Soldier On fundraising team, visit the Soldier On Furniture Fundraiser page and click “Fundraise for This Campaign” on the right side of the page to begin fundraising. To make a donation, simply click “donate to this fundraiser”.

We thank you for your support of Soldier On and willingness to contribute to this community of new homeowners!

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Soldier On’s Innovative Resiliency Program featured in New Jersey Chiropractor Magazine

Soldier On Resiliency Program

Read Full Article Below

“Before I came to the resiliency program, I felt ruined. From family tragedy and military service I had been diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety, and depression. I had tried making myself useful around the office but even normal everyday work had me so stressed out that I couldn’t function, I was ready to leave the military and resign myself to a life of just getting by. Dr. Z’s program changed me in a way that I had never thought possible. I’m back at work and back to being a present husband and father thanks to Dr. Zodkoy and the program.”
– Cody, active duty USMC

Soldier On is a non profit that since 1997 has been dedicated to helping veterans achieve a basic standard of living with permanent housing, social services, and the security of knowing that someone cares for them, but Jack Downing, the CEO of Soldier On, knew that more could be done. In 2011 Mr. Downing and I met at a Department of Defense conference and exchanged ideas about how chiropractic care could help veterans improve their physical and emotional health. Those talks and many more led to the launch of The Resiliency Program in 2014, which is quickly becoming the go-to program for veterans and active duty personnel with chronic and “untreatable” health issues. “A lot of people with mental disorders, addictions and traumas, which homeless veterans often have, can’t connect the dots the way you think they should,” says Downing.” I was frustrated with what I’ve seen our veterans experience in failed treatments. So I thought, ‘Let’s try this.'” So far, Downing is impressed with the results.

“We started to see a significant calming effect in our residents in our communities,” he says. “They had more ability not to go into crisis mode and were better able to manage their anger and rage. In a pod where all veteran inmates are housed in an Albany, N.Y. prison, one of the guards commented that this was the first time in his career that inmates weren’t yelling and screaming at him. Observationally, I’d say 50 percent of the individuals are responding strongly to the program.” I developed The Resiliency Program to rebuild the minds and bodies of veterans, active duty personnel and their families. The main focus of the program is to assist veterans with anger, anxiety, burnout, depression, fatigue, insomnia, PTSD, and chronic health issues. The Resiliency Program is unique in that it is not just a mental or physical health program but rather care designed to rebuild the body’s natural resiliency for health through nutrition, chiropractic, and emotional meridian desensitization. This program has proven effective in many of the most difficult cases, when medications, therapy, and other treatments have failed.

The Resiliency Program has enrolled over 350 participants in just 14 months. The Resiliency Program was originally supposed to operate in five states: NJ, NY, MA, MS, and PA. The need of our veterans and active duty personnel has expanded the program throughout the US and the world- this could only have been achieved by the generosity of chiropractors willing to step up and help.

“Following family tragedy and major life complications I fell off the edge and couldn’t pick myself back up. I surrendered and entered Soldier On’s Resiliency Program. Just out of being scared I listened to what they said and did what they told me to do. The program worked like magic. Somehow it balanced my mind to the point that I could get through the most difficult time of my life. I thank Soldier On and all those who participated.”
– Chris F., Veteran

The Resiliency Program has two parts. Part 1 is lab testing of urine to measure neurotransmitters. This test is a good indicator of what nutritional supplements will help improve the emotional and physical health of the veteran. The results of these lab tests and a personal consult are the basis for the nutritional supplementation provided to the veteran. The main goal of the nutritional support is to support the HPA axis and the nervous system, often additional supplements are recommended to help with symptomatic relief. The nutritional part of the program is handled through online questionnaires; in home lab testing with all phone consults being provided by myself. Part 2 involves hands on work, which involves desensitization of emotional stressors through coordinating tapping of acupuncture meridians. Most patients also receive traditional chiropractic careto insure full mind-body healing. The average participant is seen one to two times a week for a total of 20 sessions, but all care is based on a participant’s need.

“This is a game changer,” says Jack Downing, CEO of Soldier On. “Essentially, everything we did for post-traumatic stress and its symptoms- hypervigilance, anxiety, intense mistrust, depression, anger- expecting people to go through cognitive therapy and talk about their traumas and giving them psychoactive drugs wasn’t working. This program is effective, and anyone treated has complete privacy because it’s not run through the government.” Funding for The Resiliency Program comes from Soldier On, which utilizes only private donations to support the program. Their funding allows for all of the program’s services to be completely free including lab testing, chiropractic appointments, and nutritional supplementation. Private funding also gives the program the ability to separate itself from the VA system that is universally loathed by veterans. Referrals from the program come from many different organizations including: Vet2Vet, Wounded Wear, Stop Soldier Suicide, Cornerstone Family Programs, Hope for Veterans, ironically the VA system, and self-referrals as well.

The Resiliency Program’s success is due to the willingness of chiropractors to step up and help our veterans and active duty personnel. The program employs several chiropractors to treat veterans in concentrated areas, but it’s our volunteer doctors that allow us to offer chiropractic care throughout the country. Many veterans are in desperate need of basic chiropractic care but cannot afford the care. If you would like to help a veteran by donating one chiropractic visit a week please register at Docs4VetS.org and Patriot-Project.org. Dr. Zodkoy will be holding grand rounds in December at the VA’s prestigious War Related Injury and Illness Study Center (WRIISC).

Dr. Zodkoy practices in Freehold, NJ. He specializes in difficult and severe cases. He authored the book Misdiagnosed: The Adrenal Fatigue Link in 2014, which became a bestseller on Amazon. He has worked with the ANJC to establish the Nutrition Education Council. His present focus is on expanding The Resiliency Program and chiropractic care for veterans (szodkoy@hotmail.com)

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Homeless veterans to move into Chicopee’s Chapin School this summer

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CHICOPEE – Renovations inside and outside of the former Chapin School are progressing and officials are hoping formerly homeless veterans will be able to move in this summer.

“Construction is underway and we are looking for a late June completion,” Gary Shepard, president of Soldier On, said.

Soldier On, a Western Massachusetts Agency which provides a wide variety of services for veterans needing help, announced in 2012 that it planned to purchase the old school, located in a triangle-shaped piece of land between Meadow and Chicopee streets, and convert it into housing for homeless veterans.

After years of work to get grants, loans and tax credits, to fund the about $10.5 million renovation, construction began about a year ago, said Joanne Beauregard, controller for Daniel O’Connell and Sons, which has partnered with Soldier On for the project.

The renovations and purchase of the property is being funded with tax credits and different grants so the complex will not have a mortgage when it is completed, she said.

The classrooms in the school are being converted into 43 one-bedroom units which will each have a kitchenette and bathroom. Each unit measures about 500 square feet, Beauregard said.

“We are in the process of identifying veterans who are eligible for the units,” she said. “Everyone who qualifies was once homeless and is in temporary housing.”

The complex will be run similar to a co-op. Veterans initially pay $2,500 to buy a share in the building and each will pay a monthly rent that that is set under the Housing and Urban Development guidelines for low-income residents.

The money earned through rent is put into an account to pay utilities, property taxes, maintenance costs and other expenses for the building, she said.

Most of the veterans have some type of military benefits or other benefits and are eligible for housing subsidies so they can pay rent. Some also work, Beauregard said.


Soldier On
has a number of similar housing complexes in Western Massachusetts and other locations, including one in Northampton and one under construction in Agawam.

The former Chapin School was considered an attractive location for veterans’ housing, in part because it is already on a bus line and across the street from Rivers Park.

“We are happy to see a vacant building coming back into use,” she said.

The building was originally an elementary school but in 2003 it was closed as a neighborhood school and used for an alternative school. It has been closed since Chicopee Academy moved to a different location in 2005.

Some work, especially on landscaping, will probably continue after residents move into the apartments. Plans call for some of the blacktop that surrounds the building to be removed and replaced with plantings to make it more attractive, she said.

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Berkshire Eagle : BRTA delivers tons of donated food, items for veterans at Soldier On

PITTSFIELD — Looking at several thousand pounds of locally donated food headed for regional Soldier On facilities on Wednesday, Jason Stump saw the future.

“That saffron tea will make excellent seasoning for chicken,” said Stump, head chef at the Pittsfield facility. “Cannellini beans are always a good addition to salads. Saltine crackers will be perfect for the crab cakes I make. I see all the ingredients for a good beef stew.”

Donated by Berkshires residents, the food had been collected — along with other items like clothing, toiletries, greeting cards, notebooks and much more — by Berkshire Regional Transit Authority and stored at BRTA’s headquarters on Downing Industrial Parkway.

Stump and roughly 10 veterans packed the food in boxes, loading the boxes into trucks, and driving the vehicles to the Soldier On apartment complex on West Housatonic Street. Within the next few days, some of it would be sent along to Soldier On’s Leeds facility to help veterans coming in off the streets.

“It’s keeping us busy on a nice day,” said Ben Hamilton, an Air Force veteran, as he packed boxes. “Last week, we went down to the Second Congregational Church and helped out making food at the food bank. We helped out the people of Pittsfield, gave back. This week, we’re being taken care of ourselves. And, believe me, a lot of people need some of this stuff.”

The drive was now in its fifth year as a benefit for Soldier On. Initially, it was organized to fund gifts to underprivileged children, but former BRTA Director Gary A. Shepard, now Soldier On’s president and CEO, converted the fundraiser to highlight another population in need.

In addition to the gift collection, BRTA donates two weeks’ worth of local bus revenue to the organization, which in 2015 amounted to 1,223 rides, or several thousand dollars.

“It’s a small price to pay,” said Tami Larimore, BRTA’s director of administration. “A lot of [veterans] come back broken. Some of us take for granted what we have every day — flushing toilets, hot showers, food in our cupboards, the blessings of a car to drive and a job to go to.”

She added, “A minority of us require medication to get through the day, not most of us. Few of us have serious physical ailments. This is a small way to say ‘thank you.’ We can’t make up for what you brought back with you, but we can show our appreciation.”

Shepard spoke about Soldier On’s national progress at BRTA — progress that has been helped along by numerous acts of charity like the one celebrated Wednesday.

He said 50,000 American veterans suffer homelessness in the United States — about 5,000 of them women — and another 1.4 million are living paycheck to paycheck and could lose housing anytime.

“We’re very proud of the partnership we have with BRTA,” Shepard said. “We recognize that one of the barriers for veterans getting supportive services and medical appointments they need, for employment, for education — for getting generally reintegrated into the community — is transportation. It’s a major barrier. A lot of our veterans do not have cars, and they need to get around. Working with BRTA is a real value-added component.”

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.

 

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Soldier On Featured in MassLive

Soldier On opens new facility for homeless female veterans in Northampton

mass live photo

Navy veteran Cynthia Stevens (Fred Contrada)

By Fred Contrada | fcontrada@repub.com
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on December 16, 2015 at 10:00 AM, updated December 16, 2015 at 10:04 AM

NORTHAMPTON – Cynthia Stevens sat and took a break while the workmen around her hauled sheetrock and the women examined the premises. Soldier On was in the process of opening its new transitional housing facility for homeless female veterans.

The new, 16-apartment complex on the VA’s Leeds campus was something most of them weren’t used to: a housing facility especially for women. May we add, for women veterans.

Half the 500 homeless shelters run by the VA don’t accept women at all, and few are specifically tailored to them. Many of the shelters that do take women lack separate quarters from the men.

Stevens, a Navy veterans, was moving out, not in. Many of the vacancies in the new facility were being filled by women living in renovated cottages at the VA. If this was a step up from that, Stevens apartment in Westfield was two. It will be a place her four grown children can visit. A place of her own.

Men's shelter under construction, as seen from the women's facility. Fred Contrada / The Republican

Men’s shelter under construction, as seen from the women’s facility.                                              Fred Contrada / The Republican

“I get along with all the women here,” she said. “We’re one big happy family.”

If you look out one of the windows you can see the construction underway on the 44 unit men’s facility up the hill. Although they’re close by, men are out of bounds on the women’s facility. Stevens is okay with this.

“There’s too much chaos if men are involved,” said Stevenes, who receives treatment for her PTSD.

The women’s shelteroffers a range of services and programs, from mental health therapy and treatment to counseling, educational programs and employment opportunities. All run by women and serve to support the veterans, many whom have been victimized by military sexual trauma.

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Sara Scoco, director of women’s programs.      Fred Contrada / The Republican

Sara Scoco, the director of the women’s programs, said the goal is to treat the body, mind and spirit together Women also work on substance abuse problems and self esteem. Among the programs offfered are yoga, writing groups and walking clubs. “Everything is run by women for women,” Scoco said. “A house care takes them to their appointments.”

John Downing, the CEO of Soldier On, the men’s homeless shelter at the VA, said the women’s facility cost $1.8 million to build, with much of the money coming from federal andstate sources.

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Boston Globe: A fresh start for homeless women veterans in Northampton

NORTHAMPTON — Jane Geary struggled up two flights of stairs with full shopping bags and clothes hangers dangling from her overloaded fingers. It was moving day, a wonderful day, a day unlike any Geary had known.

The 55-year-old Navy veteran does not have a home of her own. But Tuesday, Geary and 11 other women embarked on a bright, promising chapter in their lives as they moved into a new residence for homeless women veterans.

“Crazy, crazy, crazy,” Geary said, shaking her head and breaking into a smile at the wonder of it.

She and the other women now have individual apartments in a bright, sparkling residence as part of a program run by Soldier On, a private nonprofit organization.

For these women, part of the wonder is that someone cares at all. Most suffered sexual abuse in the military, and Geary, a former nurse who once lived in Gardner, also deals with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I never felt like I fit in anywhere,” Geary said. “Here, it’s a different story.”

That story will unfold in a $1.7 million building of nearly 9,000 square feet that contains 16 individual apartments, four shared kitchens, plus space for activities as varied as group meetings, yoga, and artwork.

‘I never felt like I fit in anywhere. Here, it’s a different story.’
Jane Geary, talking about moving in to her Soldier On apartment

“This is a safe place to be. They make sure of that,” said Geary, who became homeless after her husband died and she struggled with drugs and alcohol. “They love you until you can love yourself, and that’s very new to me.”

It’s a place designed for women and run by women, where men can enter only by invitation. Soldier On is one of a limited number of residences for homeless women veterans in the state, but the three-story residence is the latest effort to meet a growing need as more women join the military.

Kathy Copeland, a 47-year-old Navy veteran, said she is still in disbelief over her new apartment. “When I look at it, I say to myself, ‘Wow, that’s for us.’ ”

Women made up 9 percent of homeless veterans this year, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. That percentage, encompassing more than 4,000 women, tracks closely with their representation in the armed forces, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

But women veterans, for reasons that are unclear, are slightly more likely to become homeless than their male counterparts, said Randy Brown, spokesman for the nonprofit coalition.

“Women come to us incredibly broken,” said Sara Scoco, the women’s program director for Soldier On.

When the women arrived at a previous Soldier On facility, some did not speak because of their trauma. Others cried for weeks.

“All of our women experienced trauma before the military — childhood abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse,” Scoco said. “Many of them went into the military to escape trauma and were re-traumatized instead.”

The program is located on the campus of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and parallels a Soldier On effort that serves 265 homeless male veterans here and in Pittsfield. The women’s services, however, carry a distinct imprint.

There are cooking classes, art instruction, and beadwork — all part of a holistic strategy to meet the mental, emotional, physical, and intellectual needs of a vulnerable, traumatized group.

“Many of these women don’t realize what their strengths are,” Scoco said.

Low self-esteem and nagging fear sapped much of that strength. But with mental-health counseling, volunteer work in the community, and opportunities for schooling and employment, those strengths are being rediscovered and nurtured, Scoco said.

“I’m learning what it’s like to not be a victim,” said LouAnn Hazelwood, a 60-year-old Army veteran who is the oldest woman in the program. The youngest is 26, and only one day of active-duty service is required for eligibility.

More than 1,500 women have been helped since the program began in 2005, said Jack Downing, chief executive officer of Soldier On. Per-diem payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs meet some of the program’s expenses; up to 30 percent of a resident’s income, if there is any, helps meet others. Donations and grants make up the rest.

When the program began, women were placed in the same building as men on the VA campus. Later, the women moved separately to two aging cottages that once housed doctors who worked at the hospital.

But now, set on a slope and surrounded by greenery, the women have a semi-secluded place of their own.

Downing said the new building has been designed to accommodate homeless women veterans with children. That’s an uncommon pairing, Downing said, because many women remain in abusive relationships to protect their children from homelessness.

No children are living at Soldier On now, but a flexible design will allow apartments to be reconfigured when needed, Downing said.

On Monday evening, Geary anxiously awaited the move-in the morning. Boxes had been packed, clothing had been sorted, and a promising chapter in a difficult journey lay only hours ahead.

But first there was a treat.

A women’s group had invited Geary and the other veterans to a country club for dinner and a dance, and Geary wanted to look special. For this, she donned a dress and a necklace.

“I don’t wear a dress too often,” Geary said, a small smile creasing her face. “And this is an opportunity to put one on.”

For Geary, the night out represented another small checkpoint on the road to stability. It’s a long journey, Geary acknowledged, but it’s one she wants to see through.

“There’s more that I need to work on, so that I don’t have to come back when I leave here,” she said. “I want to be a success.”
The $1.7 million building of nearly 9,000 square feet contains 16 individual apartments, four shared kitchens, plus space for activities as varied as group meetings, yoga, and artwork.

-By Globe Reporter Brian MacQuarrie

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