Wood shop near completion at Grace Home, creates opportunity for homeless veterans
Finding purpose after military service can be difficult for some veterans and the nearly finished shop at the Grace Home is helping fill that void.
Organizers had hoped to repurpose the existing garage at the Grace Home, a transitional housing facility for homeless veterans, but it ended up needing to be torn down and rebuilt.
The shop is nearly finished now and the Grace Home held an opening ceremony for the facility on Thursday.
Edward Aguasanta, a Marine veteran from New York, is a Grace Home resident.
For some veterans, “we tend to sit in depression and feel worthless,” he said.
There’s a lot of untapped talent among the residents and the shop will open opportunities for them.
“It’s fulfilling,” Aguasanta said.
He studied art in school but has never worked with wood and “it’s amazing what people can do,” he said.
Airmen from the 219th RED HORSE of the Montana Air National Guard, and students from Great Falls Public Schools helped construct the shop and other community members also helped.
Watching those people work on something for the veterans “was amazing to see how many people came together,” Aguasanta said. “One of the biggest things veterans face is feeling forgotten.”
The shop was the designated project for the 2017-2018 Leadership Great Falls class and according to Shane Etzwiler of the Great Falls Chamber of Commerce, 16 companies donated time or materials and another 32 local companies contributed in other ways, whether it be funding, marketing or other services.
During Thursday’s ceremony, those involved with the construction thanked businesses and community members for support, but Deb Kottel of St. Vincent de Paul and one of the original organizers for the Grace Home said she didn’t want to forget the reason they were all there: “the men who served this county and hit a wall.”
The men living at Grace Home developed a mantra that Kottel read during the ceremony. It reads in part: “Today I will stand with pride. I will act with confidence. I am a fighter. I am a survivor. I know I am not alone.”
Kottel was one of the original drivers in establishing the Grace Home, a project that began in 2015 and opened in 2016.
On Thursday, Kottel said seeing the shop near completion was “not just the fulfillment of a dream. It reflects us as a community. It certainly represents hope and perseverance.”
The shop was dubbed Bandsaw Brothers with a metal sign made by GFPS welding students.
The shop isn’t quite finished yet and still needs drywall, lighting, heat and shelving.
“We’re so close,” said Jen Lehman, Grace Home director for SVdP.
Lehman said they’ve received some donations for tools and equipment for the new shop, but are still fundraising to round out that aspect.
At the September groundbreaking for the shop, Senior Master Sgt. William Gamradt said the 219th RED HORSE was supporting the project and airmen were framing and building trusses.
Their involvement was through the Defense Department’s innovative readiness training program, he said, and enhances their wartime training since they do construction in deployed locations.
“We’re all veterans, we all will be veterans,” Gamradt said.
Airmen from the 219th spent about two weeks at the end of September on the construction and worked with the GFPS students.
“These are our future construction workers,” Gamradt said, and the project has offered skills training for everyone involved.
In September, Lehman said Grace Home is always at its 10 veteran capacity. Their goal is to stabilize veterans and connect them with community services.