Grace Home wood shop focus of this year’s Leadership Great Falls class

A wood shop for veterans to refresh, hone or learn new skills has always been a part of the plan for the old garage at the Grace Home, a transitional housing facility for homeless veterans.

Now that the home has been open a little more than a year, the plan for that wood shop is getting some additional community support.

This year’s class of Leadership Great Falls has about 35 members and they have selected the wood shop as their project. They’ll be soliciting cash donations as well as materials and in-kind services to support the garage renovation and might also be helping with the labor.

The home is a program of St. Vincent de Paul and Jenn Lehman is the Grace Home director for SVdP.

Lehman said rebuilding the garage as a wood shop will create an opportunity for the veterans to put their skills to use, or to learn new skills that can also help them find jobs.

She said most of the residents have skills that are beneficial to the community, and the learning and mentorship through the wood shop could be “life changing.”

The sign now outside the home on 5th Avenue South was made by a resident of the home who is 100 percent disable, Lehman said.

In the first year of operation, 42 veterans have come through the Grace Home, Lehman said. Some have come through Judge Greg Pinski’s veteran court program, others have been referred by other agencies.

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Lyndsay Bruno, communications director for Montana Farmers Union, and Denise Czuprynski, marketing and communications director for the University of Providence, are members of this year’s class, which put out a request for proposals for this year’s project and they got a few responses from community organizations, including the Grace Home.

Czuprynski said the group will seek cash, materials and in-kind donations to turn the garage into a wood shop, using a design plan from the Grace Home leadership.

Veterans are also helping to design the new shop.

Brian Long, an Army veteran, lived in the house and had a contractors license in Wisconsin. Now he’s working to get licensed in Montana and is assisting in designing the wood shop in consultation with local contractors.

Long said that since he knows the veterans living in the house, he can help design something they’ll like and best suit their needs, but the designs will depend on the amount of donations and available funding.

Mayor Bob Kelly said the Grace Home is an example of the community responding to a need in helping veterans who have come into some difficult times.

Bruno and Czuprynski said that the Grace Home wood shop would collaborate with St. Vincent de Paul by refinishing and repurposing furniture items which will then be given to the My Neighbor in Need program.

Grace Home provides transitional housing for veterans in exchange for community service.They also have off-site access to services including mental health assistance and addiction recovery services, among others.

The home has 10 rooms on the second floor and locals have sponsored the rooms to decorate and furnish them. There are also four rooms on the first floor for temporary housing needs, as well as resident staffer, and shared kitchen, library, laundry and lounge space.

Two veterans at the home, including one with a culinary background, have taken the lead on St. Vincent de Paul’s homeless outreach efforts and they make all the soup

Since its inception in 1978, nearly 1,500 community leaders have graduated from the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce Leadership Great Falls program, according to Shane Etzwiler, Chamber president. 

A graduation requirement is a group project that improves the Great Falls community, Etzwiler said.

Past projects have included supporting a NeighborWorks Great Falls home; statues along the River’s Edge Trail; bleachers at the Paris Gibson Education Center; a 5K run fundraiser to stop child abuse; upgrades and repairs to the Boys and Girls Club van; supporting improvements at the Eagle Mount Activity and Riding Center; fundraising for the Great Falls Police Community Foundation and fundraising for My Neighbor in Need.

Want to donate to the wood shop project? Call the Chamber at 406-761-4434. Want to donate to the Grace Home in general, call St. Vincent de Paul Charity Services at 406-761-0111.