Genette Eaton remembers the hardships faced by veterans returning from the Vietnam War and is determined that it doesn't happen again with veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We have to take care of these young men and women," says Eaton, the CEO of HomeAid, a national nonprofit organization that builds housing for the homeless. An affiliate of the National Association of Home Builders, the Newport Beach, Calif.-based organization has completed more than 150 housing projects nationwide and has another 62 in development.
Last week, HomeAid announced the creation of the HomeAid Wounded Veterans program, which is spearheaded by Pat Riley, president and coach of the Miami Heat National Basketball Association team. The program is designed to provide "dignified housing with educational services, job-skills training, and nurturing support that enable Iraq and Afghanistan wounded veterans to return to a productive life back home," according to a HomeAid statement. Veterans Administration statistics report that wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom are 19 to 25 years old, have an unemployment rate that is three times the national average.
"Unemployment's impact is insidious: It diminishes self-worth, undermines family stability, and increases the likelihood of depression, substance abuse, homelessness, and suicide," Riley said in a statement. "Employment plays a crucial role in breaking this downward spiral, and this program will provide our young heroes with the tools and knowledge they need to become employed."
Riley selected HomeAid as the operations manager for the program "because of our reputation," Eaton says. "What we're doing is following our normal model: We manage everything from an operations perspective. We find the organizations to provide the services and find the builders to build the facilities."
The program plans to build at least 10 facilities nationwide in the next five years in locations that have a convergence of builders, service providers, and available land for multifamily housing-"any place in the country where all those come together and they have a strong veterans' need," Eaton says, "and money." Possible locations include Houston; Fitchburg, Mass.; Los Angeles; New York; Miami; and San Diego.
As with other HomeAid projects, the HomeAid Wounded Veterans program will draw on the expertise and generosity of builders, their trade contractors, and suppliers to donate skilled labor and materials to construct the facilities. Of all the components of the project, that's the easiest to put together, Eaton says.
"I'm staggered by the generosity of builders," she says. "When I came to this organization, I asked, 'Why does a builder build?' I thought it was about sticks and bricks. It's because of the heart. ... We will build what our builders build, the home of the heart, where these young men and women can transition back into the community."
For more information on HomeAid Wounded Veterans, call 949-258-0850 or visit the organization's Web site at www.homeaid.org/vets.
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