By Alex Bridges
2:10 pm Sunday, August 16, 2015
A veterans advocacy group has refocused its efforts from housing to mental health care and education for former service members.
Almost a year has passed since the Disabled Veterans Committee on Housing re-branded itself as the Veterans Community Resources. The nonprofit organization also backed off on an effort to turn a house on South Massanutten Street in Strasburg into a center to help fight homelessness among veterans.
Jorge Gutierrez, who retired from the U.S. Army as a command sergeant major, took over the organization last year. Gutierrez works as the chief executive officer for the BMOC Group, a business-management consulting firm in Woodstock.
The organization has honed its focus to serve veterans in the region and moved its headquarters from the Winchester area to Woodstock.
“So we’re able to have a greater impact in the community,” Gutierrez said. “There’s a greater accumulation of veterans in Shenandoah County that have a need and it just makes sense to move the offices where our clients are.”
The organization also has established a volunteer board of directors — a group of people with diverse backgrounds, including an attorney, Gutierrez said.
In the past year, the organization received support from partner agencies. The United Way in Winchester awarded two grants to the Veterans Community Resources. The Combined Federal Campaign also gave support to the organization. The assistance from the two entities allowed Veterans Community Resources to serve approximately 100 families that include veterans, the majority of which live in Shenandoah County.
The organization’s efforts go beyond helping individual veterans. Last November the organization distributed holiday meals to families of veterans, Gutierrez said.
Veterans Community Resources, as part of a network of nonprofit groups called Future Generations, serves to help veterans, law enforcement workers and other emergency responders who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, Gutierrez explained.
The Blue Ridge Association of Realtors recently held a charity golf event to raise money for the Veterans Community Resources. Gutierrez cited the Strasburg Chamber of Commerce and the local American Legion chapter as supporters of the organization. The American Legion helped the organization distribute holiday meals to families and raised money for the group.
The Disabled Veterans Committee on Housing came to Strasburg about two years ago with the intention of renovating a large home on South Massanutten Street into a center for homeless veterans or those at risk of becoming homeless. The organization tried to raise money for the project and received some help along the way but likely not enough.
“That particular property, we could not agree on the right numbers,” Gutierrez said. “So I’m sorry to report that we had to back out of that particular property.”
The veterans group still plans to create a center somewhere in Shenandoah County, likely in Strasburg or Woodstock, Gutierrez said.
“What we are doing differently because the idea is not dead, we found an investor and he wanted to donate a property in Winchester, 10,000-square-foot property and we turned him down,” Gutierrez said.
The veterans group has since enlisted the help of an investor to serve as project manager and to find a property in Shenandoah County suitable for the organization.
“This is not something that we have given up on,” Gutierrez said. “We very much would like to maintain our footprint in Strasburg because this community has been very generous.”
Homeless veterans or those at risk of losing their homes will have a role in what the organization does, Gutierrez explained. However, since other organizations handle the homelessness issue directly, Gutierrez said his group plans to concentrate on education, job placement, counseling and mental health care services for veterans.
“I think we’re changing sort of our vision a bit because what we have learned is that many of the folks that are now into law enforcement, firefighting or EMS services have at one time or another were veterans,” Gutierrez said. “Whether they’re veterans or not, (what) we want to do is be able to extend what we do to what we call at-risk population because they’re the ones that are more exposed, caring for the rest of us.”
Veterans Community Resources wants to raise $3 million, Gutierrez said. The organization would use the money to buy and furnish a piece of property and then pay staff for the first year of the center’s operation, he noted. The project manager has the responsibility of raising the funds and financing for the purchase and then would lease the property to the veterans group, Gutierrez said.
Anyone interested in the organization’s efforts can contact the group at 855-463-4886. Gutierrez said a website for the organization is under construction.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org