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Home Again

By James Johnson

There are countless little moments that add up to remind us why we do the things we do. For Tiffany Walker, who serves as director of family services for the nonprofit veteran service program Endeavors (formerly “Family Endeavors”), a very recent moment stood out to her.

“There was this one little boy who asked, ‘How long can we stay here? I want to stay here a really long time.’” Walker recalled. “This little boy was just so excited to have his own bed. He was just over the moon to have his own bed. These are things we take for granted.”

Walker was referring to the child of one of the veteran mothers that Endeavors had set up in its newly renovated Reveille Retreat house, located on Langdon Street in Fayetteville.

If the Reveille Retreat looks familiar, that may be due to its well-publicized past. Formerly known as the “Jubilee House,” it was built in 2011 as part of the ABC reality program “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

The reality show specialized in creating lavish homes for needy families, with an absurdly quick turnaround time of seven days.

Despite the best of intentions and a promising start (during the shooting of the show, the house was even visited by then-first lady Michelle Obama), the house was allegedly mismanaged, and eventually left vacant. That is until last year.

After the state announced that it would be putting the home up for auction, Walker saw a perfect opportunity to do for the home what Endeavors has always strived to do for struggling veterans: give it a second chance.

After purchasing the house, Endeavors invested in renovating it and making it into a shelter for female veterans who’d fallen on hard times.

“We already had services in Fayetteville for veterans where we help veterans with housing and assistance, so we had a footprint in Fayetteville,” Walker said. “…We thought it would be a nice opportunity to offer a stepping stone for those individuals who want to get help getting back on their feet.”

But after the purchase, Walker quickly learned of the drawbacks that come with a house built in only seven days.

“They are made for TV. It is a beautiful home but it had a rail that was kind of low with really high stairs and no wheelchair access,” Walker said. “We put a wall up to make the stairs safer and to make the home ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant.”

Other work included changes to the once huge master suite. The bedroom’s size was reduced to one more typical of other bedrooms in the house. A larger bathroom was put in, with room and accessibility for women confined to wheelchairs, as was an additional storage area. Small cubbyhole-style pantries were put into the kitchen since each resident is responsible for her own meals. Indoor playground equipment in another part of the house was altered to be safer. Other necessary upkeep work was also done. Endeavors has reused as much as it could of the furniture, appliances and other items that were left in the house.

Still, all in all, Walker says renovations to the 7,200-square-foot home have cost upwards of $100,000 – and there is still much more to do.

The goal is to have a home that can comfortably house eight families. As of this writing, three families have recently moved into the home. Families are allowed to stay there for up to two years rent-free to give them ample time to get back on their feet. The idea is to give women veterans who have fallen on hard times, either due to joblessness, escaping domestic violence, or many other reasons, a place where they can get their lives back on track, while maintaining some dignity.

In the United States there are an estimated 39,471 veterans who are homeless, many due to substance abuse or health problems which can be traced back to their service to their country. Homelessness is always tragic but Walker feels particularly indebted to those who have served.

“I think it makes sense for Fayetteville because we have Fort Bragg and we have more female veterans now than any time in history,” Walker said. “Some of them need time to get on their feet if they have fallen on hard times. We provide a stepping stone for them. We can help them get back to work, make sure their kids get to school, so they don’t have to worry about being homeless again, or worry about returning to a home of domestic violence. There are some scary situations. There are not a lot of programs like this in the area. It is a nice addition for the community.”

The house features handicap-accessible entrances and bathrooms, a communal kitchen and living room, a play area, a garden with an outdoor glass greenhouse and private bedrooms for each family.

Keeping a roof over their heads is not the only thing these families need to get their lives back on track, which is why Endeavors also provides case management, mental health counseling, parenting education and coaching for job hunting and self-sufficiency.

Maintaining a transitional home like this one is costly in terms of time and money, but Walker said she feels it is essential given the lack of other options for these families.

“What we see with our clients are seeing large families, and a lot of shelters just cannot accommodate that,” she said. “All of the basic needs are provided, but as soon as they get in we help make sure they are connected with the community, make sure they have medical insurance, and food stamps, and if they don’t or they are waiting, we provide food.”

After the two years are up, Walker said the families will be reevaluated to see if they are ready to leave the home. Endeavors wants to be certain that no one is leaving this home and falling back into homelessness.

“The entire time they are with us, we work with families to help them have a plan,” Walker said.

As Endeavors is a nonprofit, they are always in need of donations. Financial donations can be made by going to their website at www.familyendeavors.org. Currently, Walker says, the biggest need is new linens and comforters.

“Especially for kids,” Walker said. “We want to give them blankets with kid-friendly designs, not just solid colors like adult blankets.”

It’s the little things that can make the biggest difference.