After months of work and fundraising, members of Leadership Tri-Cities Class XVIII wrapped up their class project Wednesday.
Today, Old Glory waves in front of the Columbia Basin Veterans Coalition's student veteran home in north Richland.
The flagpole was part of the group's project. So was the new landscaping, an updated kitchen and the remodel of a downstairs room into a study area and of one large bedroom into two for a total of five.
Homeless veterans -- men and women -- can apply to the coalition to live in the 2,300-square-foot house for up to two years if they're enrolled in college.
Five vets can live in the house at any one time, plus there's a small apartment for the house manager. Two people currently are living in the home.
Mike Brown, residential program manager for the coalition's first group home, the Wagenaar-Pfister House in Kennewick, said the Richland home is dedicated to vets using the G.I. Bill to attend college.
They're a younger group, mainly in their 20s, than the vets at the Kennewick house who are mainly Vietnam-era veterans.
The coalition helps military veterans find housing, work and educational opportunities and helps them access the services and benefits they've earned.
Leadership Tri-Cities is an educational, nonprofit program whose graduates are challenged to be catalysts for positive change in the community. There's a new class each year and each chooses a project to improve the community.
When this year's class asked the community for project ideas, the leadership class didn't hesitate in choosing to assist the coalition to complete its latest house for homeless veterans.
The decision was unanimous, said pediatrician Dr. Kevin Marsh, a 12-year Army veteran and member of the Leadership Class.
"We were looking for a project that would help people help themselves and leave a legacy in the community," said Leslie Streeter, another class member.
The coalition had already bought the house and was working with general contractor Bert Morgan to refurbish and remodel it.
Johan Curtiss, executive director of the coalition, took the Leadership Class on a walk through the home, and the group identified four areas where it could help. That's when the class went to work raising money, arranging for donations and even picking up hammers and paintbrushes, pruners and shovels.
"They worked alongside us," Morgan said. "They really wanted to be a part of the work."
"Our goal was to make the house feel like home. Here, these veterans are coming back from war, back to their community and had no placeto go. We wanted to make it homey so they'd feel cared for," Streeter said.
It's important to give these returning veterans a helping hand, Marsh said, because so often they're missing a skill set that can be used in civilian life.
"If you're trained to use weapons and hunt out the enemy, there's not a lot of civilian applications for that other than law enforcement," Marsh said. "They need to be retrained."
Marsh said he witnessed the passion many soldiers have for learning, for getting a degree, while serving in Baghdad.
"They'd go out on a mission, risking their lives, and then study at night. The next day they'd go out on a mission again, one they may not return from. These service men and women deserve our support," Marsh said.
The Leadership Class raised $16,600, but because of material donations from companies and individuals, its part of the renovations cost about $7,300. The additional $9,000 will be given to the coalition as seed money for another group home.
-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; firstname.lastname@example.org