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Giving Back To Vets for What They Gave To Us

By Marty Peak Helman

There are 200 veterans in Maine living on the streets. Local veteran Ed Harmon will not rest until they are all decently housed. “I will go anywhere and do anything for my sisters and brothers,” he said.

Back in 2019, Ed and fellow vet Arthur Richardson had an idea – to purchase a small trailer and fit it out so that a homeless vet could be safe and warm while turning his/her life around. They built a prototype and decided to go into production to take care of Maine vets. Ed talked to us about the results a year or so later, back when we were meeting virtually. He and Arthur came to the Rotary club last week to bring us up to date on their remarkable achievements since then.

The project is now a 501( c)3 called V.E.T.S. – which stands for Veterans Emergency Temporary Shelter. V.E.T.S. has built 20 trailers, with six more in production. They are all fitted out with top-quality materials including insulation to make the trailers safe throughout our Maine winters. “That may sound like a lot of trailers, but we could have had 15 more units out there if they had been available,” Ed said. “There’s just so much need. And no vet should go homeless. Not after what they have all sacrificed for this country. It’s our country. And we need to care for our vets.”

The trailer idea is catching on nationally. Ed said that he was at the VFW national convention last month in Albuquerque to talk up the idea, and he has had interest and support from our representatives in Congress. He called out Sen. Angus King, who has put $500,000 in an upcoming appropriations bill for the program. “That’s 42 trailers,” points out Ed; “but that’s not money that’s coming, it’s money that has yet to be voted upon.” The trailers are currently costing $12,000 apiece to purchase and outfit. That breaks down as $6900 for the trailer and the rest for fitting it out.

Ed decried all the red tape that slows much government funding. And he also decried the overhead of most non-profits. “We don’t take salaries or charge for our labor,” he said. “Our overhead is one-half of one percent. That’s unheard of.”

V.E.T.S. is finding help in unlikely places. The cabinets and countertops are made by members of a VA chapter who are incarcerated in the Maine State Prison, for example. “That’s vets helping vets,” Ed said, and giving the inmates something positive to do and hold onto.

The trailers are all wheelchair accessible and mostly used by singles, but three are outfitted for married couples, and Ed is costing out the possibilities of a bigger trailer for families with kids. Once set up, the trailers need to be connected to electricity, and shower and toilet facilities must be available nearby; the trailers only have a port-a-potty.

Ed has also found a donor who would like to provide the land for a recreational camp for vets and their families here in Maine. “The plan is that vets would enjoy the camp in the summer, free of charge, and other vets would live at the camp in their trailers year round and be responsible for maintenance.”

Clearly, the sky is the limit. Ed asked that if any of us know a vet in need, to reach out to him for help. “I’ll go anywhere and do anything for my brothers and sisters,” he emphasized.

V.E.T.S is having its annual barbecue/fundraiser at the American Legion Hall on Saturday, August 19. A lot of the food is already donated, but Ed needs help setting up. There’s a flyer going around with a QR code for purchasing tickets – or for donating money if you prefer that to actually, you know, showing up. Either way, it sounds like a great opportunity to support our vets in need.

It was a powerful presentation, and testament of what a small group of dedicated people can do. And we are so proud not only that Ed and Arthur are members of our community, but that our club was a financial backer of V.E.T.S way back when.

Earlier, we shared happy dollars – Bruce has returned from his well-deserved sabbatical; Laurie took an equally well-deserved vacation from the Barn last Saturday, and although it confused some of our regular customers that she was “missing,” not only did she win her golf tournament but somehow we managed to struggle along without her and the Barn enjoyed near-record-level sales.

Linda Clapp introduced Sarah, a neighbor and visiting Rotarian from Madison, Wisconsin, and Marty is headed off on a Rotary-free vacation. We’ll believe that when we see it.

Linda also is seeking volunteers to join our Friendship Exchange team from Calabria when they are here next month. Interested in helping host them to Cabbage Island, Monhegan or a Sea Dogs game? Check out the signup list on the table by the nametags.

And while you are signing up, don’t forget People Power, the engine that keeps our meetings and Clubhouse running. Jeff Long – in a moment of weakness – had signed up for Sergeant-at-Arms and then forgot all about it; as it happened he had a great debut performance and acquitted himself admirably. This too could be you!

This week we are welcoming Melanie Dresser from Camp Capella in Dedham, Maine. Camp Capella provides recreational and educational experiences for physically challenged young people in Maine. Melanie has many stories of inspiration and challenge she shares. Camp Capella is a program our club donates to from Rotary Barn sales.

Do you get the idea that Rotarians (and guests) have fun at meetings? We do. Join us for one of our low-key but meaningful Thursday evenings beginning at 6:00 pm; help us help the community by donating your used stuff and purchasing replacement goodies at our Barn sales each Saturday morning, and discover the Fifth Rule of Rotary: Is it fun? You’ll meet great people (us) and be glad you did.