In the four short years since its founding, Saving Forgotten Warriors, the Cullman-based nonprofit focused on helping military veterans cope with re-entering civilian life, has steadily built momentum and a growing measure of community support for its mission. Now in 2020, it’s aiming to take its next big step.
Thanks to a partnership between Saving Forgotten Warriors, local Realtor and property owner Richard Neese, and a roster of supporting local businesses, organizations and people, the group is on track to establish a home for at-risk veterans who need some help making a successful transition from active duty to everyday living. In Hanceville, the nonprofit is currently refurbishing a duplex property that, when completed, will be fully ADA-compliant and capable of accommodating up to 12 resident veterans at a time.
“This is just one phase of the bigger program that we’re really trying to put in place,” said the organization’s Jeremy Hogan, who helped found Saving Forgotten Warriors and has been instrumental in crafting the group’s vision. “We’ll have up to 12 beds to start out with, plus a house manager who’s on site 24/7. We’d really wanted to get the property finished in time for a ‘Christmas miracle,’ but we’re still working with the city [of Hanceville] to sort out the zoning details.”
The city is doing its part, though the wheels of municipal procedure move at a slower pace. With a favorable recommendation from Hanceville’s planning commission in hand, the duplex home along Hopewell Road will be the subject of a Feb. 13 public hearing which, if uneventful, will pave the way for the city council to rezone the property to R-3 residential — a designation for multiple-occupancy dwellings.
Pam Whitt, the organization’s financial officer, told the city council Thursday that a transitional home would help Saving Forgotten Warriors address the root cause of the problem of integrating veterans into civilian life — instead, as is often the case, of addressing only the symptoms.
HANCEVILLE — Hanceville officials will hold a public hearing next month to weigh the implications of rezoning a residential property on the city’s east side to accommodate a proposed housing duplex development for veterans.
“We often end up paying for hotel rooms for men who are sleeping outside under bridges and in tents,” Whitt explains. “The problems that the face adjusting to civilian life are unique, and not everyone understands the difficulty they face. With this, though, we can actually help them transition into a productive and successful life. Everyone who becomes a resident under our program will be vetted before they go in. We verify that they have served, and that they have not been dishonorably discharged. But we don’t want to turn people away. This is a program for all veterans in need.”
There’a lot more to it than simply providing veterans a place to stay. “There is a program connected to this; it’s not a homeless shelter,” Hogan explained. “You come to us with a need of transitioning from military service, whether you’re dealing with a temporary or a long-term hardship.
“Some veterans will come to us who just need short-term conditions. They’re not really addicts or alcoholics; they’re just trying to get back on their feet. You’ll see them spend about three months or so with us to make sure they’ve got everything they need to be successful.
“But then there are others who’ve pretty much been living on the streets on their own for a couple of years,” he added. “We look to try to work with every veteran who’s gone through something like that for about five years. When veterans come to us in need of help, the goal is to actually help them make a productive and stable life, and that requires a commitment beyond just a short-term place to stay. You’ve got to have a five-year plan with them, and show them the pathways to obtaining a skill and getting the medical or psychological help that they are going to need, and to walk beside them every step of the way to make sure they’re able to stay committed.”
Barring any unforeseen obstacles, Hogan said the goal is to have the Hanceville residence open and operational by March. The Hanceville program, he hopes, will lay the groundwork for the larger plans that Saving Forgotten Warriors has in place to expand the goal of providing guided, transitional living for veterans on a much larger scale.
“It’s a big program, and when I started putting ideas for it together I envisioned it in phases. We’ve got a site at Logan where we’d like to eventually put a 120-bed facility, but we need to start with a successful location at Hanceville and work our way forward. In the near term, we also have the possibility for more homes over in the Vinemont area — a property with three homes on one piece of land — and if we can do that, it’ll be closer to the middle or the end of this year.
“We’re just about to do our first audit [as a 501(c)(3) organization], and on the other side of that, we’re hoping we can actually apply for some of the better grants out there. There are grants that can help cover the cost of these programs, but it’ll take six months to a year with our Hanceville residence before we see any action on that. In the meantime, we have a lot of terrific partners in the community who are helping us out.”
Thanks to Neese’s property contribution, a startup contribution from the Cullman Elks Lodge No. 1609 and plenty of sweat equity, the group already has a good start on the extensive, $56,000 remodel at the Hanceville site. But Saving Forgotten Warriors is actively seeking more donors — whether of money, services or in-kind assistance, said Hogan.
“We want the public to help us do this. We feel it’s God’s blessing for even giving us the opportunity,” he said. “It’s going to take involvement from the public and the whole community, not just in Cullman County, but even the statewide community. We’re naming one side of our Hanceville property in honor of the Elks Lodge for their sponsorship, and we’d love to take on other business sponsorships.”
To learn more about how you or your organization can get involved in supporting Saving Forgotten Warriors, contact the organization’s main office at 256-747-5006, or email Jeremy Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org.