Veterans' housing project nears halfway mark in funds

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Jewett City - posted Tue., Apr. 19, 2011
TALVHI officials William Czmyr, Jr., president, and Avery Tillinghast, campaign counsel, note the $300,000 milestone for fundraising on the Jewett City veterans' housing project. Contributed photo. - Contributed Photo

The dream of local housing for homeless veterans is nearing its halfway point.

The American Legion Veterans Housing Inc. (TALVHI) recently topped $300,000 in funds raised toward the projected $760,000 cost of furnishing and finishing the American Legion LaFlamme-Kusek Post 15 building on South Main Street and Railroad Avenue in Jewett City. The structure, which dates from the 19th century and was formerly the Polish-American Club, will be reconfigured to house 18 veterans in furnished apartments in a direct care setting.

The project, initiated in 2007 by unanimous vote of the Legion post’s members, is intended to be a national model for providing care to homeless veterans in a rural setting, said Avery Tillinghast, TALHVI’s campaign counsel. The facility will employ a team of case managers offering a range of services such as daily life skills and money management training, crisis intervention, vocational and job training support, and relapse prevention.

Tillinghast said that much of the recent fundraising progress was the result of gifts of $250 or more, contributed in honor of veterans from all fields of the U.S. military. Donors at this level will have their selected veteran listed on a memorial plaque in the lobby of the facility. For a contribution of $1,000 or more, a veteran can be honored on a plaque incorporated into the memorial retaining wall, planned to encircle the building’s exterior.

“This program… allows donors to remember family members, friends and comrades at arms,” said Tillinghast. So far, 36 veterans’ names will be included in the structure, with terms of service dating from the Civil War through the current Middle East conflicts, he said.

The memorial and honorary donations have given the project a major boost, said Tillinghast. “They’ve made a good difference, and we’re getting more of those daily,” he said.

Funds raised for this portion of the project will provide furniture for the 18 apartments, exercise and recreation equipment, and a geothermal heating system. Additional costs of construction, such as the demolition of a neighboring building and renovation of the Legion’s post meeting room, will also fall under this funding umbrella, said Tillinghast. “We’re just trying to make it more homelike,” he said.

Along with the Veterans Administration, TALVHI is partnering with local non-profits and businesses, such as the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, Jewett City Savings Bank, Reliance House, Inc. and Boundaries LLC. The bulk of funding for the approximately $6 million project came from grants, notably $3 million from the CHFA, said Tillinghast.

Work on the site has been underway since February, he said.

While housing for homeless vets has been established in other parts of the country, this is the first such facility carved out of an American Legion post and aimed at a rural population, Tillinghast said. “A lot of veterans came out of rural areas and they don’t want to live in the inner city,” he said.

Another difference between the projected facility and others across the country is that housing in Jewett City is intended to be permanent. Vets who live there can stay “as long as they want to stay,” he said. Most other post-hospitalization residences for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are designed as two-year transitional housing facilities, such as one in New London.

With post-hospitalization support, the rate of successful re-adaptation into society for veterans with PTSD is about 75 percent, said Tillinghast. The eventual goal is to give vets the tools they need to become independent again. “Having the local community involved in this is going to help, too,” he said.

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