Thanks to Those Who Serve

MOUNDSVILLE – It’s been a long time coming, but the doors of the Helping Heroes veterans’ resource center in downtown Moundsville are finally open as a result of money raised by the Cost of Freedom Tribute in Moundsville in August.

And thanks to a grant received last week to put in a sprinkler system, it won’t be long before the three transitional housing units upstairs are ready for their first occupants.

“Things are really going to go quickly now,” said Susan Harrison, acting executive director for the nonprofit organization.

Things haven’t exactly gone quickly up until now, although progress has been steady since Harrison and her husband, Jeremy, recognized a need a few years ago and took it upon themselves to see that need fulfilled for veterans in the six Northern Panhandle counties.

The Harrisons purchased the neglected and dilapidated building at 256-260 Jefferson Ave. in April 2010 and immediately began to gut it and rebuild.

“We took it down to the studs,” Susan Harrison said.

Within two months, the 258 side was ready for occupancy by CASA for Children Inc. of which Susan Harrison is the executive director of CASA.

Helping Heroes subsequently was founded as a 501(c)3 charitable organization in December 2010 by veterans and veteran supporters, including the Harrisons – Susan is the daughter of an Army veteran and Jeremy served a tour in Iraq in 2003-04 – and board members who also are combat veterans, Mitch Anthony and Rick Crumm. Other board members are Chad Groome, Geoff Skadra and Anna Wade.

The purpose of Helping Heroes is to provide transitional housing, housing assistance, job counseling, budget help, referral services, case management and more.

A licensed social worker, Leila Miller, has been hired to provide one-on-one assistance to veterans, as well as to write grants and build community resources. Helping Heroes does not provide readjustment counseling or other services already provided by the Veterans Administration through the Wheeling Vet Center, Miller said.

Since the onset of 2011, Helping Heroes has been able to provide occasional one-time monetary assistance and referral services. That spring, they helped a Vietnam veteran released from Northern Regional Jail who was homeless and broke. Helping Heroes provided him with toiletries and a bus ticket to Martinsburg where his family lived. The vet wrote a note of thanks that said, in part, “Knowing someone is there to help me make this transition is a blessing.”

Over the past two years, donations and volunteer labor provided by Ohio Valley businesses and residents have been overwhelming, Susan Harrison said. She noted church groups as well as veterans who are now tradesmen and contractors would show up on volunteer work days. Rain CII donated all the windows for the building, and its employees installed them. CertainTeed Gypsum donated all the drywall.

Some of the contractors who volunteered came from Weirton. “They were the absolute most amazing men I’ve ever met in my life. I’ve been so humbled by them,” Harrison said.

Men sentenced to community service through the county drug court also helped out. One young man came back on his own after his grandmother learned he was helping veterans and told him she was proud of him for the first time, Harrison said.

After many months of off-and-on work, the Helping Heroes office space at 256 Jefferson Ave. finally was completed in August. The office still remained closed; Miller was hired in June but worked mainly from home writing grants.

But on Oct. 30, the center opened with limited hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Harrison credited a $5,000 donation from the Cost of Freedom Tribute.

“This is a local, grassroots type of organization and it’s a volunteer thing. They’re really trying to help people in transition,” said Butch Inclan, a Cost of Freedom Tribute coordinator. “We knew we wanted the money that was left over to stay local, not go to some big organization.”

The transitional housing units on the floor above CASA and Helping Heroes, at 260 Jefferson Ave., are still not done. Work was halted because of the need for a sprinkler system in order to comply with federal requirements. (Helping Heroes does not receive VA funding but plans to in the future.)

On Nov. 8, however, Helping Heroes received a $12,000 Hess Family Foundation grant for the sprinklers. After installation, the rest of the drywall and the ceilings will need to be put up and the finishing touches made.

“We are 80 percent done,” said Miller. “In the next month, we’ll be working on getting donations of sinks and assorted appliances.” Harrison said many items already have been secured, such as beds and refrigerators.

The units consist of a two-bedroom apartment to accommodate a small family, a one-bedroom apartment and an efficiency. Tenants pay nothing and must be substance free, Harrison said. They can stay for up to two years provided they receive case management from Helping Heroes and be working toward independence.

Harrison said the ultimate goal is to make a more permanent positive impact on veterans’ lives.

“Without being able to find a job, that deepens the anxiety, the depression, the family relationship issues. With no money, they can’t maintain housing. It’s a snowball effect. We want to step in before that point,” Harrison said.

Two Helping Heroes fundraisers are taking place today. A softball tournament is going on from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Pulaski Field in South Wheeling. Admission is free but donations and concessions go to the organization. In addition, the locally made movie, “Doughboy,” is being shown at 1 p.m. at the Strand Theatre on Fifth Street, Moundsville; proceeds benefit Helping Heroes.

For more information on how to donate or to schedule an appointment with Miller, call 304-810-4291.