Program helps vets rebuild broken lives

By Hillary Gavin – Beloit Daily News, Wednesday, November 9, 2011


With Veterans Day on Friday, Nov. 11, veterans living in Rock Valley Community Program’s (RVCP) transitional housing programs will be enjoying their comrades during their first Veterans Day in the new facilities.

Rock Valley Community Program | Photo Credit - Hillary Gavin, Beloit Daily News

Staff photo by Hillary Gavan From left, John Martin, a veteran in the Rock Valley Community Programs transitional housing program, speaks with Rock Valley Community Programs Executive Director Angel Eggers in front of the veteran's wing. Martin said staying in the program has helped him get proper medical treatment and prepare for the next chapter of his life. He said the men all look out for each other because of their shared history as veterans and as those who have overcome struggles.

The vets plan to visit Beloit cemeteries for ceremonies put on by the American Legion in Beloit, followed by an outing to the Golden Corral.

U.S. Air Force veteran John Martin and U.S. Navy veteran David Schafer shared a little bit about their lives in their new home during an interview on Monday. Both agreed the veterans are getting along well because of their shared military histories and as those who’ve overcome personal battles.

“We all know we’ve served,” Martin said. “We all had some struggles, and recognize each other’s, and we want to see each other succeed.”

Martin, 53, was one of the wing’s first residents, moving in May 8. He said he’d been bouncing around in his passenger van and staying with his mother and brother in Beloit. He came to the program to get help with medical issues, being a Veterans Administration stroke patient.

He said he’s overcome a lot during his time in the transitional program. He had a difficult time adjusting and found it a bit overwhelming at first. But after getting his medical issues addressed and gaining physical strength, he’s focused on getting in a position where he can be out on his own and help take care of his mother Geraldine Martin, who will be celebrating her 80th birthday soon. Residents agree Martin’s mother has a lot of spring in her step for a 79-year-old.

“I’m responsible. She’s my best friend and my mother,” Martin said.

He’s working on socializing with the other veterans and said he’s made friends. He said there are different age veterans, ranging from 25-70. Some of the younger veterans have served in Iraq. Martin, who did his service in peacetime, says he doesn’t ask questions to those returning from war, but is available to support the other men.

“I listen,” Martin said.

Martin, who was recently baptized and became a Christian, often feeds fellow veterans on the floor from his food stash set at the ready in his room near his Bible. He takes pride in his room, keeping it neat and tidy and decorated with a Jesus and The Last Supper necktie. He enjoys attending motivational, finance and social living classes.

“I go to as many as I can,” Martin said.

Martin and Schafer said they will be going out with the other men on Veterans Day. The two didn’t see it as anything out of the ordinary. The men said that back in their day serving their country was just something people did, even if it didn’t pay much.

“We all were in the military. We all have served our country,” Schafer said.

Schafer of Janesville said the program is focused on the others, not just him, and all the veterans have different circumstances. Schafer said he’s devoted to his recovery from alcoholism and starting his life over. Before coming to the program he was sleeping on a park bench for a couple of months and had served time in prison.

He works as a sales associate at Full Circle Furnishings, the new resale shop where many of the veterans work, and has plans to enroll in school to become an alcohol and other drug addiction counselor.
Executive Director for RVCP Angel Eggers said Schafer is an expert with the cash register at the store and other work duties.

“Paper pushing is easy,” Schafer said.

Schafer enjoys preparing healthy food and residents report smelling the aroma of his chicken breasts, pork chops and greens floating down the hall. Schafer, the self-proclaimed “nut” of the group, said he’s a bit of an individual and “doesn’t need a baby-sitter.” He said the program is good for how it’s crafted for individuals, as the veterans all have different stories.

Eggers said the program is designed to be transitional. Once legal, medical or other financial issues are worked out, the men make plans to either get a job or find a more permanent home. She said the veterans have been a mix. Some have had substance abuse problems or physical and mental health issues, while others have lost a job and found themselves homeless.

She said since the wing opened in April, several men have found employment and left the program. On Monday, one of the men happily reported he had just found full-time employment.
Eggers said there was an overwhelming response to the grand opening of Full Circle Furnishings on Saturday, and the men agreed. They said families were buying entire room sets and staff was happily busy keeping up with demand.

Full Circle Furnishings, 2526 Riverside Drive, is a resale shop with gently used and modestly priced quality home furnishings. Regular business hours are Wednesday through Sunday 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Full Circle Furnishings’ mission is to create jobs for veterans and other residents living in RVCP’s transitional housing programs. It’s a division of Caravilla, Inc., a non-profit, 501C3 agency.

Renovations at the Caravilla Homeless Veterans Transitional Housing Program were completed in April. RVCP renovated 24 studio apartments, two of which are handicap accessible. Each unit can provide housing for two homeless veterans, serving 48 homeless veterans at a time. Currently there are 35 veterans living in the facility. There are 13 beds open and Eggers said staff will be working to get more homeless veterans moved in soon in light of the changing weather.

Beloit Daily NewsEggers said the program is collecting winter coats, hats, gloves, hygiene products, laundry soap, towels, blankets and twin bed sheets.

Those who want to mail a donation can send them to Homeless Veteran’s Program, care of Rock Valley Community Programs, Inc. 203 W. Sunny Lane Road, Janesville, WI 53546. Anyone interested in making a donation can contact RVCP at 608-741-4500. The number of Full Circle Furnishings is 608-365-2130.