Soldier On’s Tinton Falls Project featured in Asbury Park Press

3 Things to know about Tinto Falls project to house homeless veterans

Asbury Park Press | Payton Guion| August 30, 2016


By one count, New Jersey is home to some 2,000 homeless veterans. On Tuesday, the public gained a longer look at plans to correct course and put roofs over the heads of ex-service members from Monmouth County and beyond.

Political leaders and others gathered at Eagle Oaks Golf and Country Club in Farmingdale for the unveiling of a project that aims to elevate scores of homeless veterans in Tinton Falls.

The nonprofit organization Soldier On presented its plan to house homeless veterans – aided in part by a deal announced earlier this month in which the borough sold the group 12.59 acres on Essex Road near the Jersey Shore Premium Outlets for $1.

Rep. Chris Smith

“When I talk to veterans, every one of them says that housing is their biggest need, bottom line.” U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-4th, told the Press.

The facility would house up to 100 homeless veterans and provide services, such as job training and mental health services, aimed at plugging them back into the community.

Below are three things to know about the project:

1. A lot of red tape remains

Soldier On has yet to secure financing for the project. CEO Jack Downing said his company will work with agencies that fund affordable housing projects in New Jersey to help pay for the facility, estimated to cost about $20 million.

While finding funds, Soldier On will have to work with the Tinton Falls planning board on its site plan. Jim Scalise, the organization’s engineer, said a zoning change may also be required. Despite of the unknowns, Downing said he expect Soldier On will have the project moving through Tinton Falls government within nine months.

2. It’s unclear how many units will be built

Preliminary plans say that development will comprise up to 100 units. Soldier On hasn’t settled on a final number. Once engineers review the site and confer with the planning board, the number of units will become clearer.

Veterans will have an ownership interest in the apartments. Soldier On offers its residents the opportunity to buy into a cooperative, and pay $2,5000 for a share of ownership. That share allows them to rent a unit. Downing said units in the Tinton Falls project are expected to rent for $1,025 per month.

3. Not all the veterans will be local

The organization will focus on housing homeless veterans within Monmouth County, Soldier On said. But the facility is expected to have more units than there are homeless veterans in the county. Matthew Buckley, SSVF Program Director with the nonprofit, said there are about 30 homeless veterans in the area on any given night.

New Jersey has among its homeless population an estimated 2,000 veterans of the United States Armed Forces, according to the state Department of Military and Veteran Affairs.

The remaining units will be offered to veterans in other areas served by Soldier On, mainly in New England.

Downing said that even though a lot of work remains, he expects veterans to move in within four years.

Tinton Falls Mayor Gerald Turning tole the Press that this project is “the best thing I’ve even done as an elected official.”

Click here to read more.




Solider On to Receive $250,000 for Plymouth, NH Veterans Housing Project

Governor Hassan, Senator Shaheen Announce Twelve New Hampshire Projects to Receive Northern Border Regional Commission Grants

Grants to Help Spur Economic and Community Development in the North Country

AUGUST 2, 2016 CONCORD – Governor Maggie Hassan and U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) today announced that twelve New Hampshire projects will receive grant funding from the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC) to help spur economic and community development in the North Country as part of the 2016 NBRC Economic & Infrastructure Development Investment Awards totaling $1,550,000.

At the request of North County civic leaders and homeless providers, Soldier On was invited to undertake a Veteran’s permanent affordable housing project in Grafton County. As one of the largest private providers of veterans’ supportive services, Soldier On operates a complex continuum of housing and support services for veterans that is designed to move them from homelessness toward permanent homeownership.   On average over 8,500 veterans and family members are served annually through its emergency, transitional and permanent housing programs.

The Plymouth Veterans project located on 12 acre site on Boulder Point Rd will provide housing and support services to New Hampshire veterans, especially those that prefer to remain in the North Country.  Unique to Soldier On is the development of affordable Veterans housing under a limited equity cooperative model. The model provides each veteran with a real stake in their home, in their community. Veterans are involved in the Cooperative’s Management and in the day to day operations- providing a sense of purpose that is essential to their recovery and long- term stability.

Plymouth Site Plan

The Veterans Administration through their Medical Centers in Manchester and White River Junction, VT will play an active role in the identification of eligible veterans and coordination of VA services. New Hampshire Housing Finance Agency will administer VASH rental assistance vouchers that will ensure housing affordability for each Veteran.

The commitment of VASH requires the project to commence construction by April 2017. Soldier On has assembled a qualified development team to ensure that with the support of the Town of Plymouth and participation by key funding partners, the project will meet that aggressive deadline and be housing New Hampshire veterans by August 2018.

“Each of these projects will promote job creation and economic development by addressing critical priorities, including increasing access to substance misuse services, updating our long-term economic development strategy, combating veterans homelessness, strengthening our infrastructure and supporting our travel and tourism industry. I thank our partners across the region and in the federal government for their collaboration, and I look forward to continue working together to keep New Hampshire’s economy moving in the right direction,” Governor Hassan said.

“Today’s announcement is great news for jobs and the economy in northern New Hampshire,” said Senator Shaheen. “Each of these projects will help revitalize the North County economy by addressing important infrastructure needs and supporting small business growth. I’m glad to see the NBRC prioritizing development in North Country communities and businesses, building on the region’s strengths and expanding opportunity in the Granite State.”

“The people and communities of the North Country face unique challenges and obstacles, especially when it comes to economic development, but partnerships like the Northern Border Regional Commission invest in projects that help to create jobs, reduce poverty, and ensure that the resilient people of the North Country get a fair shot,” state Senator Jeff Woodburn said. “We need to make smart investments in order to expand opportunity for all, support businesses throughout our state, and lay the foundation for a new generation of economic growth. The announcement of more than $1.5 million into the North Country’s economy is a great shot in the arm and I thank Governor Hassan, our Department of Resources and Economic Development, Senator Shaheen and our Congressional delegation for helping to secure this vital funding.”

“I would like to thank Governor Hassan and Senator Shaheen who have worked with our North County partners, lead by Catherine Brentwood and Alex Ray, for this opportunity to move forward with this vital project,” Soldier On CEO Jack Downing said.

To read more:
Governor Hassan’s Communications Office (603)271-2121


Living Her Authentic Self – Success Story

Johanna Montalvo is proud to say that she is finally able to be the real her.

In 2000 Johanna started her eight year tenure in the military with the Puerto Rico National Guard.  Two years later she found herself stationed in Fort Drum, NY on active duty with the United States Army, where she remained until 2008. After her time in the military, Johanna fell on tough times. She suffered from PTSD, which she tried to remedy with substance abuse.

Dealing with the loss of her mother in 2014 and her relationship falling apart due to her addiction, Johanna found herself suicidal in August of 2015. Just days before the year anniversary of her mother’s passing Johanna was able get into an AdCare facility to detox and start her journey of recovery. She quickly moved on to The Hope Center in Springfield. While sitting in a group meeting in September, Johanna was overcome with guilt. There were warrants out for her arrest and up until that moment she had disregarded them. Johanna knew she could not move forward without righting these wrongs.   She followed her conscience and turned herself in at the Holyoke District Court. Johanna was taken to the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center in Chicopee to serve her sentence.

As Johanna awaited her court appearance for November 6th, Alexis Truslow, Soldier On Psychotherapist, visited Johanna and interviewed her asking a series of questions regarding her childhood, trauma, and addiction. At that time Johanna was not aware she was a potential candidate for the Veterans Treatment Court in the Holyoke District Court.  On the morning of November 3rd she was advised to get ready for court. It was there she was given the option to take part in that program. Johanna was released that same day.

In December, Johanna joined the Solider On Women’s Program. Soon after, she was chosen to be on the house committee. She quickly became an active resident who made herself visible and available to the other women within the house.

On January 21, 2016 Johanna was not only the first woman, but the very first person to complete Phase 1 of the Veterans Treatment Court program. As of today she has completed 3 phases and anticipates graduating from the program in May 2017.  While Johanna is only required to report to court once a month, she attends every week to support the other men and women veterans in the program.

With her record, Johanna has had a difficult time finding work; but Dave Felty, from Homeward Vets, believed in Johanna despite her past and gave her the chance to volunteer at Homeward Vets.  In addition she volunteers at Hope for Holyoke, a center that helped her persevere through detox.  Johanna also works weekly lunches at the World War II Club in Northampton

Johanna is now moving into her own apartment in downtown Northampton, which is fully furnished by Homeward Vets. Soldier On’ s Supportive Services for Veterans and Families (SSVF) program aided her with the moving expenses for the furniture, the security deposit, and plans to provide assistance for her utilities.

Even though Johanna is leaving Solider On, she plans to stay in touch with not only the women from the program, but Sara, Stephanie, and other Soldier On staff as she will continue to get support from the relationships she has built over the past 8 months.

With the support of Access to Recovery (MA-ATR) Johanna has passed her driving test and received a valid driver’s license. She has built her resume with the help Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission and now has an interview at the beginning of August. Johanna’s ultimate goal is to become a Certified Peer Support Specialist so she can provide her peers with the same encouragement that she once needed.


Pine Ridge Ladies Golf League Annual Charitable Event

Pine Ridge Ladies Golf Charity Event

In June the Pine Ridge Ladies Golf League of Lakehurst, NJ held a charity golf event at Pine Ridge Golf Course on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Naval Base to benefit Solider On. Women from Leisure Knoll joined the Pine Ridge Ladies for the event. The group of 38 women played a 9 hole golf game with prizes for longest drive on hole #1, closest to the pin on hole #8, and low gross, as well as chip in awards.
The longest drive was won for flight A and B by Arlene Key and for flight C and D by Joanne Larkin.
Closest to the pin was won by Rita Cashman.
Low gross was won by Laura Dickinson for flight A, and Kathy Nielsen won for flight B.
Low gross was won by Joanne Larkin for flight C, and low gross was won by Sarah Stewart for flight D
Chip-ins were won by Ethel Donlin and Nancy Wong.
The event chairperson was Cathy Linden with assistance from Nancy Eldridge, Kathy Nielsen and Betty Valentino.
Following the event and awards, everyone enjoyed a lunch and desserts in the clubhouse. The day was enjoyed by everyone and over $1,000.00 was raised.


Soldier On’s Partnership with Williamstown Theatre Festival Featured in The Berkshire Eagle

Solider On veterans thrive on grease paint, play writing and artist palettes

“Orpheus in the Berkshires” supports Soldier On veterans

The Berkshire Eagle | July 15, 2016 | Susan Bush

NORTH ADAMS – United States Army veteran LouAnn Hazelwood termed her professional acting debut “a Cinderella story.” Hazelwood’s birthday is July 5, and over the past year, her life has changed dramatically.

“Last year, at this time I was homeless,” the 61-year-old woman said. “This year, professional pictures were taken of me in costume and will be given to me as a gift. I came from over 30 years of abuse. I’ve found my voice and my courage. For me, it’s been miraculous.”

Hazelwood and about 75 other community residents opened the play, “Orpheus in the Berkshires,” on Thursday at the new Greylock Works venue, 508 State Road (Route 2). The run for the hour-long play continues tonight at 7:30 and concludes at 5 p.m. on Sunday, and is free to the public.

United States Army veteran LouAnn Hazelwood is acting in a collaborative production of "Orpheus in the Berkshires" at the Greylock WORKS venue from July 14 to 17. Hazelwood is participating with the Leeds-based Soldier On initiative, which is one of four groups partnering with the Williamstown Theater Festival for a community arts project. (Sue Bush — The Berkshire Eagle)

United States Army veteran LouAnn Hazelwood is acting in a collaborative production of “Orpheus in the Berkshires” at the Greylock WORKS venue from July 14 to 17. Hazelwood is participating with the Leeds-based Soldier On initiative, which is one of four groups partnering with the Williamstown Theater Festival for a community arts project. (Sue Bush — The Berkshire Eagle)

In the play, Hazelwood will act the part of one of the grandmothers looked after by Orpheus.

These performances are part of a community engagement initiative launched by the Williamstown Theatre Festival and led by Obie Award-winning playwright, Lucy Thurber, and festival associate director, Laura Savia. Additional cast members and materials were contributed through partnerships with the Williamstown Youth Center, the Williamstown Council on Aging; the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and Rock On band camp, both based at Berkshire Community College, and others. Theater festival actors round out the cast.

Hazelwood participates with the Soldier On program based in Leeds. Launched in 1994, Soldier On is a private nonprofit organization providing homeless veterans with transitional housing and a number of support services.

In 2010, Pittsfield became host city for the organization’s Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community, a permanent housing endeavor providing formerly homeless vets with affordable, sustainable homes. Solider On offers a women’s program, men’s program, an incarcerated veterans program and a resiliency health program.

This partnership holds much promise, Savia said.

“The show is a culmination of the first year of a multi-year community engagement initiative,” she said. “We were seeking partner organizations for this and we reached out to Nathan Hanford, who runs the arts program for Soldier On. That’s how we met LouAnn and all the wonderful people from Solider On.”

Among those are Ray Voide, a 56-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran, and United States Navy veteran John Goodro, 51. The two combined artistic talents to create “Palette,” a painting displayed at the Greylock Works entrance for the duration of the performances.

 This painting titled "Palette" hangs at the Greylock WORKS entrance on Thursday. The painting was done by Soldier On participants Ray Voide and John Goodro as part of a community engaging art partnership with the Williamstown Theater Festival. (Sue Bush — The Berkshire Eagle)

This painting titled “Palette” hangs at the Greylock WORKS entrance on Thursday. The painting was done by Soldier On participants Ray Voide and John Goodro as part of a community engaging art partnership with the Williamstown Theater Festival. (Sue Bush — The Berkshire Eagle)

Voide has been involved with Solider On since December 2015, and spoke about how the design was created.

“I was a homeless artist in New York City,” he said. “One day as I was preparing to clean my palette, the white went across all the other colors and I liked the way it looked. I liked it so much that I took a picture of it and framed it.”

In February, Hazelwood, Voide and Goodro began traveling to Pittsfield with other members of Hanford’s art group, to attend a workshop series led by Savia and Thurber, The experience was life-changing, they said.

“I’ve done creative writing in the past,” Voide said. “I’ve written a play before, and working with (Thurber and Savia) was exciting. This group has helped us discover us.”

With encouragement, Voide’s photograph became a painting. Voide and Goodro painted the piece together. When the finished work was delivered to the play venue recently, the moment created a once-in-a-lifetime memory, Goodro said.

“It was exciting,” he said. Goodro said he has been with Soldier On since December.

“When we delivered the piece, John turned to me and said, ‘I feel big,'” Hanford said.

“I did, I felt big,” Goodro said. “Really though, it was Ray’s design.”

Voide spoke up quickly.

“John is an artist in his own right,” he said. “He’s got skills.”

“Soldier On saved my life,” Goodro said. “I liked what they offered and now they have art for the veterans. I never thought I’d pick up a paint brush and I give a lot of credit to Nate. He’s a genius.”

Hanford said he believes the veterans possess the creative spark.

“It’s the work that they do; they are the treasure,” Hanford said. “The value is in them.”

Working with the theater professionals felt right for Hazelwood, she said.

“I felt involved right from the start,” she said. “When I was taking part at the workshop, I was told that they were considering me for the one of the parts. I was really excited.”

Hazelwood has benefited greatly from the partnership, said Women’s Program Director Sara Scoco.

“This program really opened a door for us,” she said. “It’s done so much for LouAnn. We’ve watched her blossom; she’s bubbling over. It’s been great to see her take on this role.”

And that is the gift of the arts, said Savia.

“Our youngest cast member is 7 and our oldest cast member is 80,” she said. “The Williamstown Theatre Festival is opening its doors and this area has so many richly talented people.”

The arts are a unifying force, Thurber said. “That’s the hope of art, the hope of the theater, that with all of our different struggles, our places in life, we can get together and create something.”


Success Story: Chris “Cappy” Leos

Tom Glassmire (left) sitting with Chris "Cappy" Leos at the June 29th Gordon H. Mansfields Veterans Community dedication ceremony in Leeds, MA.

Tom Glassmire (left) sitting with Chris “Cappy” Leos at the June 29th Gordon H. Mansfields Veterans Community dedication ceremony in Leeds, MA.

Chris “Cappy” Leos was born in Boston, MA on July 28, 1958. Raised in Tewksbury, MA Chris excelled in sports as a young child. Chris played football, basketball, but truly excelled in baseball where he played third base at Tewksbury Memorial High School. During his high school career Chris only struck out once and he was later inducted to the hall of fame. Being from Massachusetts he is a loyal Boston Red Sox fan. Chris fell to peer pressure when he was a freshman in high school and started partying. He quickly learned that he was capable of drinking more than the other kids his age. He knew he had a problem, but enjoyed partying too much.

The partying and drinking is what ruined Chris. College baseball scouts sought him out, but Chris turned down the offers.  In 1975 he joined the Marines where he worked in intelligence and communications with top secret clearance.  During his time within the Marines, Chris married his childhood friend who was a tap, ballet, and jazz dancer.

When Chris left the Marines in the 1990s he went to work for United Stationers Supply Co. where he was a floor supervisor. He was also the assistant varsity coach of the Tewksbury Memorial High School baseball team. While working and coaching Chris continued to drink on a daily basis. After 17 years of marriage Chris and his wife grew apart from each other.

After the divorce Chris moved around between Methuen, Burlington, MA and Hampton Beach in New Hampshire. In 2010 Chris ended up renting a room in Haverhill, MA which is where he had his wake up call. Chris quickly learned that the house he was renting a room in was a crack house. While he never did drugs he found he was isolating himself, stayed in his room and continued to drink.  It wasn’t until his best friend, Steve Scilbilia, coaxed him into going to the Bedford VA Hospital by telling Chris they were going to the 99 Restaurant for lunch. Chris had no idea about the VA and the services that were offered to veterans.  With a little hesitation Chris admitted he needed help and started his journey to recovery.

During Chris’s fight of staying sober he completed a series of detox programs in Bedford, Boston, and Providence, RI. Chris became aware of Soldier On during his time at the Providence VA Medical Center. In September 2015 Chris arrived in Leeds and has been an active resident ever since. Chris said the programs Soldier On have been excellent for him and assist him with staying on track. He attends daily group and meetings to stay sober. Chris directs a regular spiritual group called

“Came to Believe.” He assists as many residents as he can and is a promoter of engaging recovery to stay sober. Chris has now been clean for the past 15 months.

During his free time Chris enjoys to watch sports and movies. His favorite movie is Goodfellas. He also works out 4-5 times a week where he rides the stationary bike. Chris’s plans for the future are to remain 100% service connected.  Chris also intends settle down within the Pioneer Valley area as he wants to remain close to the great deal of friends, both the residents and staff, which he has made at Soldier On


Soldier On’s Veterans Art Show Featured in The Daily Hampshire Gazette

Hilltown Voices: Solider On Art Show

Daily Hampshire Gazette | July 8, 2016 | Fran Ryan

Art lovers, and friends and supporters of Soldier On veteran artists, gathered at the Hilltown Community Development Corporation in Chesterfield on Thursday for an art open house that showcased 45 art pieces from 12 participating artists.

"Navajo Soul" by John Goodro

“Navajo Soul” by John Goodro

This is a wonderful show,” Northampton resident Keith Woodruff said as he admired one large colorful acrylic painting by John Goodro entitled “Navajo Soul.”

“It is great for the vets to experience creating art, but it is also nice for them to experience other people appreciating their work,” he said.

Soldier On’s mission is to end homelessness among veterans by providing transitional and permanent, sustainable, safe, and affordable housing that veterans own and operate with support services.

The Soldier On’s Veterans Community Art Initiative engages homeless veterans in the arts and cultural activities to promote healing and expand veteran’s social and personal networks of support.

For the last three years, artist in residence Nathan Hanford has been working with several veterans in the program making a wide variety of art supplies available and offering artistic assistance to anyone who cares to participate.

“I facilitate learning from the ground up. Most of them have never done art before,” Hanford said. “It is all about creating a positive point for themselves.”

Staff at the Chesterfield facility said they were impressed with the quality of the art work.

“We have had a lot of different paintings in shows here before but these are amazing,” Charlie Hayes, the HCDC social services program manager said. “These are really very good, if I could, I would buy many of them.”

One couple did just that. Brian and Meaghan Cooper of Pittsfield said a painting by Army Reserve veteran Dawn LeHouiller “just spoke to them,” so they bought the piece, entitled “Portrait of a woman,” for $200.

“We came to support Solider On because we think it is an amazing program,” Meaghan Cooper said.

The couple was surprised when the artist walked in just as they were purchasing her painting.

“I saw this woman walk in and I thought that she looked like the lady in the painting. It was wonderful to find out that she was the artist!” Brian Cooper said.

LeHouiller said that she was just as surprised that one of her pieces had sold.

Dawn LeHouiller standing next to her "Portrait of a Woman"

Dawn LeHouiller standing next to her “Portrait of a Woman”

“I never thought I would sell anything!” LeHouiller said. “I have been painting for most of my life but mostly as a kind of therapy.”

LeHouiller said that Hanford’s work with vets has profoundly changed how many of the participants view themselves and their capabilities.

“I nagged a friend to attend a class with me and she sat down and did a beautiful painting of a nature scene,” LeHouiller said. “It was awesome to see the happiness in her face and the pride she had in what she had created. Nathan makes that possible.”

The show currently has no end date but will continue to run for at least the next several weeks. All proceeds from art sales go directly to the artists. For information on open hours call the HCDC at 296-4536.


Soldier On Partnership with Albany County Sheriff’s Office Featured in News


Albany Times Union | June 30, 2016  | Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs

Bethlehem – As Jerry McCluskey sprays lubricant on machines or laughs with his co-workers, he looks no different from the other mechanics at the paving and construction company where they work.

McCluskey grew up working on cars in Schoharie and was a technician in the Army. The president of Callanan Industries regards him as a dedicated employee, and McCluskey says everyone has made him feel welcome at his new job.

But when the 34-year-old veteran arrives at 7 a.m., five days a week, he steps out of an Albany County Correctional Facility vehicle, and when he leaves at 3:30, he is transported back to the jail where he is serving a two-year sentence for driving with 26 license suspensions.

He is the first in a collaboration among the Albany County Sheriff’s Office and Soldier On, a privately funded veterans advocacy group, as well as Callanan, to employ incarcerated veterans while they complete their sentences in a ground-breaking program that Sheriff Craig Apple said is attracting attention from other agencies across the country.

On Thursday, Apple announced the Second Chance Veteran Inmate Work Release Program at Callanan’s mechanic garage in Selkirk, where McCluskey earns $15 an hour — money he uses to pay off fines and saves for life after jail. The goal is to drive down recidivism rates and prepare incarcerated veterans for employment.

Of about 200 veterans who have passed through Soldier On’s counseling services at the jail in the last two years, only four have returned. Yet, this is the first time the jail has allowed outside companies to hire inmates as full-time employees.

John Downing, CEO of Massachusetts-based Soldier On, said it was time to “stop having parades for veterans” and instead find ways for them “to be employed and have successful and stable lives, rather than celebrating them and then walking away and forgetting they exist.”

Although McCluskey was sentenced to two years in jail for two counts of felony first-degree aggravated unlicensed operation, he can get out by September with good behavior. Through the new work-release program, he is also guaranteed employment at Callanan after serving his time.

This past month passed much more quickly than the first four, McCluskey said, now that he is spending his time working and making money. Before, “all I was doing was just sitting there,” McCluskey said. “To be able to get out and do this, it’s making the time go by so fast.”

Callanan President Don Fane, who proposed the program to the jail because of difficulty filling positions and a determination to help veterans, said McCluskey and others can apply their military training to the workforce.

“They learned a skill when they were in the service … they didn’t forget it,” he said. “And this particular individual in this case, he’s been a very good employee.”

Apple said hiring McCluskey was a “bold move” and hopes other companies see the program’s success and say, “We can try that.”

McCluskey said he wants to counsel inmates through Soldier On once he is released.

He wears a bright orange Callanan T-shirt and green cap and is grateful to be a part of the Callanan team.

“I come here, work eight hours, go home, sleep, wake up and do it again,” he said. “The only difference is I go home to a different place than everybody else.”




Dedication of Second Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community

Veterans’ Housing Dedicated at Soldier On in Leeds

Daily Hampshire Gazette | June 29,2016 | Dan Crowley


NORTHAMPTON — James Oliver’s home burned down five years ago in upstate New York, leaving him homeless.


The 60-year-old Vietnam veteran migrated to the Soldier On homeless shelter on the grounds of the VA medical center in Leeds, not knowing where his next permanent home might be.

Katrina Dore, 38, a U.S. Air Force veteran, left an abusive marriage and eventually found space in Soldier On’s former transitional home for women on the VA grounds after spending considerable time on the streets.

“I was living out of my car, all the way from Kentucky to Vermont, wherever I could stay,” said Dore, a New Hampshire native.

Oliver and Dore are the new faces of Soldier On’s first homeless veterans ownership housing on a VA campus, and the new Women and Children’s Housing Unit, which represents another innovative housing concept for veterans.

“Four and a half years I have waited for this,” Oliver said of his new home at the 44-unit Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community, where about 150 people gathered for a dedication ceremony Wednesday.

“I’m excited about moving in,” said Oliver, who served as a U.S. military police officer and assisted with the evacuation of Americans and South Vietnamese from Saigon in 1975. “I’ve watched them build this right outside my window.”

The facility allows veterans who have been successful in the Soldier On program to purchase an equity stake in their homes. The idea is for veterans to become homeowners while surrounded by the support services they need throughout their lives.

The nonprofit organization built its first such development in Pittsfield, a 39-unit facility that is also named after Mansfield, a decorated veteran and former deputy secretary of veterans affairs who died in 2013.

The ceremony outside the newly built townhouse-style homes was marked by several impassioned speeches from local, state and federal officials, as well as John “Jack” Downing, chief executive officer of Soldier On.

“We’re trying to make a difference in the place we live,” Downing told the crowd. “The more we give, the more we chip away at the barriers.

“The standard for homeless veterans is beautiful, affordable housing,” he continued. “What we give away lives on forever in the people we give it to.”

Needs of individuals

The keynote speaker was retired Col. David W. Sutherland, a former special assistant to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Sutherland gave a powerful account of his own combat experience in two wars, particularly in Iraq, and the sacrifices of the men he commanded who put their lives on the line, for their country and, in one case, for him.

“American people know what we are, but they may not know us,” Sutherland said. “You can’t talk about us without understanding the unique needs of individuals.”

Sutherland recounted examples of veterans and their families who fell on hard times, and stressed why the new housing model built by Soldier On, in collaboration with the VA Central Western Massachusetts Health Care System, is important to providing veterans with dignity and respect in their lives.

“The power of humiliation when you don’t fit in can be overwhelming,” he said. “This is potential, not pity, and recognizes that sometimes people need a hand up, not a handout.

“We will not tolerate another generation of homeless veterans,” Sutherland said.

Other speakers included U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Worcester; Lisa Pape, national director of homeless programs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Francisco Urena, the state’s secretary of veterans’ services; John Collins, director of the Veterans Affairs Central Western Massachusetts Health Care System; Michael Gondek, vice president of the Life Initiative; and Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan.

Sullivan described the new housing as “justice for vets.”

“Remember every day you live here, it’s your home,” Sullivan told the veterans shortly before they were presented with Soldier On welcome mats.

Women and children

Charlsey Mitchell walks up to the dedication for the new housing with other veterans. Behind her is the housing for the female veterans.

Charlsey Mitchell walks up to the dedication for the new housing with other veterans. Behind her is the housing for the female veterans.

Although the men who will own and occupy the approximately 410-square-foot units at the Gordon H. Mansfield Community have not yet moved in, 15 women have taken up residence since December in Soldier On’s Women and Children’s Housing Unit just down the hill. A 16th is expected to arrive this week, bringing the development to capacity.

Lou Ann Hazelwood, 60, is the oldest veteran living at the women’s transitional housing, which currently has no children in residence. She said the tenants support each other, hearing each other’s problems and helping solve them.

“We have women coming from all walks of life in all different situations,” said Hazelwood, a U.S. Army veteran who hails from New York and who has been involved with the Soldier On program for four years.

Many of the women living in the transitional housing have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, have a history of substance abuse, or been victims of domestic or military sexual violence. About a dozen of the woman earlier lived in transitional cottages run by Soldier On on the VA campus.

The program provides a variety of wellness programs, including stabilizing mental and physical health, group sessions on building self-esteem, and programs geared toward education, job training and employment.

There is a waiting list to get into the housing and programs, and women will typically stay in such transitional housing about a year on average, said Sara Scoco, director of Soldier On’s women’s program, during a tour of the property.

“Typically, women stay longer because they come to us having lost everything — all sense of self-confidence and self-esteem,” Scoco said.

New identity

Charlsey Mitchell stands in a closet called Blommin Gals in the newly built housing for female veterans. The closet is filled with donated clothes the Veterans can use. The sign says ,"Take what you need. Need what you take. think of others."

Charlsey Mitchell stands in a closet called BlommingGals in the newly built housing for female veterans. The closet is filled with donated clothes the Veterans can use. The sign says ,”Take what you need. Need what you take. think of others.”

The youngest of the residents is 27-year-old Charley Mitchell, who grew up in Holyoke and enlisted in the U.S. Navy right out of high school, and is planning to become a certified nursing assistant. A former crew chief on U.S. Navy planes, Mitchell came to Soldier On from a substance abuse rehabilitation program in New Bedford.

After several years in the military, an experience that took her to Africa, Europe and the Middle East, Mitchell said she had great difficulty adjusting to civilian life.

“It was all I knew,” Mitchell said of her military experience. “It was who I was. It was my identity.”

Mitchell said she is finding the support she needs in the women’s program to move forward with her life.

“Everybody really cares about each other,” Mitchell said. “My grandfather died while I was here and nobody left me alone. I think it’s helpful to be with people who’ve had similar experiences to you. There’s no judgment because they’ve all been there.”

Heather Aslin is one veteran who said she lost everything when she relapsed after eight years of sobriety while living in Monmouth County, New Jersey. A U.S. Navy veteran who has a long history with substance abuse and who suffered military sexual trauma, Aslin said the women’s program is helping her rebuild her self-esteem as she works on getting back into school to obtain a social work degree.

“My addiction has taken me to places that are not fun,” Aslin said before Wednesday’s dedication ceremony. “I’m blessed that I found this place, because it’s amazing.”

Dan Crowley can be reached at

1 2 3 4 5 16 Page 3 of 16