Vet home

Life-A-New Veterans Home resident and Marine veteran Charlie Lewis adds varnish to a memorial cedar bench he made by hand.

Organizers of the first homeless veterans facility in Cherokee County said they are touched by the support from the community.

“People humble me just about everyday because of their caring attitude,” said J.D. Collett, peer to peer specialist with the Andrews Center in Tyler.  Collett also works to help Cherokee County veterans with ACCESS in Jacksonville. He lives in the home with two other veterans, Charlie Lewis and J.D. Phillips.

“Without the communities these things would never work because there is no way with budget cuts,” he said. “(Without) the community support, we (would be) pretty well dead in the water.”

The home is a three bedroom house located just outside the city limits on County Road 3201. It is owned by Julianne Sanford, who works with the Lone Star Military Resource Group and ACCESS.

It sits on several acres of property where the Lone Star Military Farmer group started a demonstration purple hull pea patch. She said the veterans are free to stay, she only asks that they pay for the taxes on the property.

“It makes a perfect balance,” Sanford said. “One of the veterans in here — he is just blossoming out here picking peas and feeding chickens and gathering eggs.”  

Chickens, a rooster and a beehive were donated to the home.

Collett said a woman in town volunteers to can any vegetables for them and someone else donated a new freezer to store their peas. When air condition wiring was stolen from the home, a local business stepped up to replace it pro bono.

“Jacksonville has been just totally awesome to us,” he said. “We came down here and all of a sudden now we have chickens. We have fresh eggs to sell. We've got gardens. They got us involved in Lone Star Military Farmers, and that brings in a little income for us. The people have been wonderful.”

Because of the open space, the group also moved its cedar furniture operation to the property. Lewis, a former construction worker, spends his days making customized benches, chairs, swings and tables. He said it's a skill he learned from God.

“It isn't me,” he said. “I can't even make a matchbox … You have to have God with you to do this without going through some kind of training. I haven't gone through any type of training or anything — not through a human being, no.”

Collett said the Andrews Center has two homes in Tyler, and each can serve six veterans. He said the homeless are given a home, a family and a support system to get back on their feet.

“We are out here working and teaching these people that they can make it on their own,” he said. “We give them hope. The biggest thing is if you give someone hope and purpose, then you can start somebody on a really good trail.”

He said each home is given a name to depict a fresh start. The Jacksonville home is called “Life-A-New.”

Collett also hosts post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) peer-to-peer groups and couples counseling at the home.

“We found out instead of just servicing the vet, the family is more important,” he said. “So they know the triggers that set them off (for PTSD) and you let them know about all of that.”


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