From the Worcester Sentinel & Enterprise 9.5.12
By Michael Hartwell
GARDNER — Employees at Veteran Homestead Inc. are screening potential residents for the last remaining slots at its veteran community, after its last 10 homes for veterans who need assistance were completed.
“This means there will be 10 more places for veterans who need an education and want to get counseling,” said Leslie Lightfoot, CEO and founder.
She started the organization as a hospice in Fitchburg in 1993, and since then Veteran Homestead Inc. has grown to four locations in Massachusetts, one in New Hampshire and one in Puerto Rico.
The Gardner location opened in October 2010 and has space for 20 families. An Army medic from 1967 to 1970, Lightfoot is a board-certified expert in traumatic stress and has equipped the small veteran community to offer physical therapy, coping therapy, PTSD treatment, financial counseling and even activities such as yoga and tae kwon do.
“If they tell us they want another service, we try to fill it,” said Pamela Toomey, a case manager who works directly with veterans. The organization also has an arrangement with Mount Wachusett Community College to help veterans further their education.
Toomey spent six years on the Air Force security force, and she said many people who work for the company have either a military background or come from a military family.
She said the military ethos of never leaving a warrior behind inspires a lot of what they do in their care for veterans who have trouble coping with new mental or physical problems after they return home.Each building has two homes for veterans and family members. The land is slanted so both the top and bottom floor dwellings have a front door that can be accessed by a wheelchair.Toomey said there are 15 veterans living there now. There is a waiting list to move in. The community also has five spouses and 13 children, with the birth of a 14th child anticipated any day.
Each building is named after a veteran who died in combat or accomplished something heroic. The homes are handicapped-accessible and use photovoltaic solar panels and geothermal energy to supplement power usage.
Veteran Homestead Inc. is a private organization that receives no government funding and is financed by private donations and grants. Toomey said veterans pay rent on a sliding scale determined by their income and expenses and does not surpass 30 percent of what they make. Rent includes all utilities except cable, Internet and phone lines.”We want them to be able to get on their feet,” said Toomey. “That’s the point.”
For more information please visit: Veteran Homestead