The familiar adage “birds of a feather flock together” works well when referring to how people with similar experiences find a true bond when they’re together.
For many veterans, including those recently returned stateside, that proverb often helps facilitate a successful re-integration into civilian life and may be a key part of the soldier’s survival. Veterans will tell you there’s something validating and comforting about talking to other men and women who have been there and done that. These peers understand what it was like to face daily threats and understand the lasting impact of witnessing unspeakable acts of cruelty. A fellow veteran will also understand those memories trigger recurring bouts of past-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Imagine the feeling of kinship coming from being a part of a neighborhood called Veterans Villages, with all the homeowners being active military or veterans. The very act of sitting on the front porch would welcome an impromptu conversation with a person who is familiar with the feelings and emotions. It would also add a different tone to neighborhood gatherings. Add to that a nonprofit organization providing classes for residents including assistance in resume writing, job hunting, and education enrollment and navigating issues with Veterans Affairs (VA).
That scenario will soon be a reality through the combined efforts of several nonprofit organizations: Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter, Combat Veterans to Careers, and USA Cares.
“Habitat affiliates work at a grassroots level, and we saw a need to serve our veterans in Lake and Sumter County,” Danielle Stroud, director of development for Habitat for Humanity Lake-Sumter, explains. “We took the Habitat model of affordable housing and designing the community for a specific group and wrapped around services for them.”
There will be 13 homes and all will be 100-percent compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If an individual’s specific needs go beyond ADA requirements, Danielle says Habitat will work with that homeowner to satisfy those needs.
There are similar communities but they are few and far between. “This is the first with this type of model, the first in our area, and is unique to Habitat,” Danielle says. “The cool thing is the partnerships we’ve developed so we look at veterans’ needs from a holistic perspective.”
Finding the ideal location for Veterans Village that was not only a safe environment but also affordable was critical to the project’s success. The town of Umatilla in Lake County fit the bill perfectly.
“Originally it was planned for Leesburg, but once we did our studies for the land development costs, it came outside the envelope of affordability,” Danielle says. “The Umatilla site opened up and owners had already done the infrastructure and underground development and impact fees had been paid so it made it much more fiscally responsible for us to choose that site.”
The land has been purchased on beautiful Lake Enola and Danielle says there will be a community garden and an area specified for the veterans on the lake.
Groundbreaking for Veterans Village is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 5. The event is free and open to the public. “We will be doing a Bob Hope/USO reenactment with a big band,” Danielle says. “At the end, we will raise the first walls of the first veteran homes.”
Considering the expected $2.3 million price tag for this endeavor, Habitat welcomes both individual and team monetary donations and/or volunteers to help build the homes.