A widow who donated $30 for flour and sugar to help fill the pantry at the area’s first veteran transition home is a good example of the kind of work that made the effort possible, said DeLisa Russell, Heart of Texas Veterans One Stop director.

A large number of often small contributions made the opening of the now fully furnished three bedroom, two bath house decorated with military memorabilia possible, Russell said. The house is named to honor Robert “Popeye” Carter, a longtime advocate for Veterans in Waco who, among other efforts, organized the Waco Veterans Day parades.

Carter, a Gulf War veteran, had been involved in talks through his work at the Heart of Texas Veterans One Stop and shared in the excitement more than a year ago about the idea of opening a transition home, Russell said. Carter died over Thanksgiving in a car crash.

Naming the first of what organizers hope to be many transitional homes after Carter seemed like a fitting tribute to his legacy, Russell said.

Family members

Veterans can apply to live at the Robert Carter Veteran Transition Home, in the 1200 block of Merganser Way, for six to nine months and will be surrounded by assistance from the Veterans One Stop to help them get in a more stable position, Russell said.

“There are a lot of housing opportunities for veterans but not veterans with families,” she said. “Say you have our fastest growing population, which is the female veteran, and many of them are actually homeless with children, so where do you put that person? What if we had a house and we could bring the veteran and their family and put them in there for six to nine months, surround them with all of our services, let them live there … just help them find that base.”

Russell said she hopes the success of the first home, part of a program dubbed Operation Forward March, will generate enough interest and donations to open up more homes.

“That’s one thing about the One Stop I always try and emphasize: We don’t just take care of the veteran, we take care of the family,” she said. “If you don’t take care of the family you don’t effectively take care of a veteran. What have those kids been through? … Do we need to collaborate with one of the schools to see what we need to do to set them up for success?”

Collaboration on building

During a tour of Veterans One Stop in November 2016, Air Force Chaplain, Capt. Brenner Campbell, president of the Children’s Mission Network, heard about Russell’s idea for a transition home. Campbell said he was blown away by the Veterans One Stop and called his friend, Stylecraft Builders President Randy French.

“He gets hit up for stuff all the time. He knows I’ve never asked him for anything,” Campbell said of French. “I said, ‘You’ve never seen anything like this.’

“From somebody who is on active duty and as a chaplain I hear a lot of the terrible things in life. One of those things is it’s really difficult for veterans to go from military life to civilian life. The bureaucracy of veterans, be it the VA, VA hospital all of these different things, it can be just mind-boggling to figure out what are the different steps I need to take. What are the benefits that are even available to me? I hear that all the time. So to go into one facility that has encompassed all the many different aspects of veterans, in one place, they can get everything they need in one place. That’s genius. I don’t know why people haven’t thought of that before.”

French toured the Veterans One Stop and agreed to build a transition house for free, Russell said. Children’s Mission Network bought the lot and provided some interior necessities. Then a multitude of donations came forward to help furnish the living spaces and make it complete.

“That’s what makes it beautiful,” Campbell said. “We’ve got American citizens benefiting from the service of those who raised their right hand now circling back to take care of those who served.”

Lending a hand

Lowe’s donated tools and a toolbox for the garage as well as yard tools, Russell said. Residents have donated food, pots, pans, dishes, even furniture for the backyard.

“It’s such a community thing,” she said. “It’s not just a group. It’s everybody: veterans, non-veterans, business owners, everybody, like the little widow who gave $30 to buy sugar and flour. It’s the veteran who came over here and made sure the vents were ready.”

The Veterans One Stop will cover the cost of utilities at the home, and every service the organization provides to veterans is free of charge, she said.

“We always need support for the Veterans One Stop, whether it’s for this house, or we feed over 200 people every Wednesday a meal, whether we’re looking at bus passes or gas passes to help them get to work. With this kind of weather, we went through all of our coats,” Russell said. “We have a professional clothes closest. We have a regular clothes closet. We have a small food pantry. We provide diapers both for the young and old. We’ve teamed up with the Waco Diaper Bank on that. We try to look at everything they need. But for this to be sustainable in this community, you always need the support of the community and you always need donations.”

Most veterans don’t like to ask for help, she said.

“They are the first to stand up and say, ‘How do I help my brother and sister?’ But they are not always the best about asking for help themselves,” she said.

In the crowd gathered Thursday for the home’s unveiling was Carter’s wife.

Roxanna Carter said she remembers her husband coming home and sharing his excitement about the idea of a veteran’s transition house.

The couple was married three years before he died, but they had been high school sweethearts, she said.

Having the transition house named after her husband is such an honor to his legacy, she said.

“He loved the veterans. That was his ministry, his everything,” she said. “He wanted to help the veterans.”

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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