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Building Up

[caption id="attachment_1820" align="aligncenter" w caption="“My goal is to ensure that all women veterans have access to the resources they need to move forward.”"]
Barbara Marshall’s whole life changed in July, that’s when a crew from the television show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” knocked on her door to tell her that she’d be getting a brand new, custom- built home for Jubilee House, a shelter for homeless female veterans that she operates on Langdon Street, near Ramsey Street and Fayetteville State University.

“I thought, ‘This is really going to happen,’” Barbara said of the day she got the news. The following day she and three of the female veterans who lived in the home were whisked away to Disney World while the tiny, crumbling house they’d occupied was demolished and a towering home was built in its place — all in seven days.

Now settled into the home, Barbara says she still can’t believe all that has happened in such a short amount of time. Six years ago Steps N’ Stages, the organization that operates Jubilee House, was just a dream of Barbara’s. The Navy veteran and former chaplain had fallen on hard times herself and, as she attempted to navigate the sometimes complicated paperwork needed to obtain veteran’s benefits, she began to dream of ways she could help others.

“I thought that the help I was receiving would be the kind of help other women veterans needed. I guess that’s just the former chaplain in me,” Barbara said.

She said that the Veterans Affairs system can be even more complicated for women than it is for men because it is still adjusting to the large numbers of female veterans entering the system. And, with a daughter currently serving on active duty in the Army, the issue also had strong personal ties for Barbara.

“Being a woman veteran, it’s difficult to maneuver,” Barbara said. “Our VA has a new reality with women vets.”

Barbara noted that recent women vet- erans have an added hurdle to overcome in that the VA system is also more accustomed to dealing with older soldiers.

“Traditionally, they didn’t have to deal with pregnancies at the VA,” Barbara said. “That’s something they’re having to get used to now.”

So Barbara founded Steps N’ Stages and after a few years she’d managed to scrape together the $24,000 she needed to purchase the home on Langdon Street that would become the site of her shelter at a VA foreclosure sale. Later, she took members of the media and representatives from Fort Bragg on a tour of the home, so optimistic about the organization’s future that she was nearly blind to the home’s many defects.

“That house was a mess, but I looked at it like it was a piece of gold. I was so glad to have it.”

Ben Abel and other workers in the Fort Bragg Public Affairs Office went on a tour of the home and were so moved by her mis- sion and by the lack of resources she had to work with that they contacted the ABC network’s television producers to urge them to consider Jubilee House for “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

“At first I thought it was a hoax,” Barbara said of when a crew from the show arrived to interview her. “All the way to the end I didn’t think it would happen.”

But it did happen. For a week hundreds of volunteers from around the region swarmed Langdon Street to assist the television crew and Blue Ridge Log Cabins, a South Carolina company that volunteered to build the home. Barbara’s neighbors pitched in, too, allowing hordes of strangers to take over their yards and tolerating construction noise and bright lights that continued through the wee hours. And in the end, Barbara had a gorgeous home — and much, much more.

“It feels like home but what feels really good is that it’s home to more than just me,” Barbara said, referring to both the female veterans and their children who reside there and to all the people who helped with the project. “I try to be embracing of everyone who comes by because this is everyone’s dream, not just one person’s dream.”

But perhaps the biggest surprise of all during a week that was full of surprises, was the first guest in Barbara’s new home — none other than Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the United States. Mrs. Obama was standing in front of the house when Ty Pennington, the television show’s host, yelled his famous line, “Move that bus!”

Barbara said that she had known that Mrs. Obama would be at the house but only because she’d read it in USA Today while she was at Disney World. Walking through her house recently, it is clear that Mrs. Obama made quite an impression on Barbara.

“Michelle calls this ‘The West Wing’,” Barbara said, motioning to a dining area on one side of the home’s central breezeway, “and she calls this ‘The East Wing’,” she said, pointing to the side of the house with living quarters.

Mrs. Obama also gave Barbara seeds from the White House garden to use in the home’s greenhouse, an area of the house Mrs. Obama was especially impressed with. Barbara and several of the home’s current residents have planted the seeds and tend to the numerous plants in the greenhouse and around the grounds.

Residents in the home no doubt enjoy the lavish accommodations and amenities but Barbara is clear that all who enter understand that their’s is to be a short stay.

“They are here for 90 days at most,” Barbara said. “The goal is for them to come here, take some time to heal, and then to get back into the game of life.”

To facilitate that regrouping process, each woman who lives in the house participates in a case management program. They receive help locating housing and employment for themselves, receiving medical care and treatment from the VA Medical Center, and emotional support from Barbara and the home’s volunteers. There are also many fun activities planned at the home, including dance classes and other events.


Residents are not allowed to hang around the house during the day, Barbara said. She requires that they be out of the house between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. working to find housing and employment or volunteering with the charity of their choice.

Each resident gives at least five hours of time to another charity each week. When they’ve met their goals, the residents graduate from the program in a graduation ceremony.

“My goal is to ensure that all women veterans have access to the resources they need to move forward,” Barbara said. Since moving into her new home Barbara said she has heard from others in Fayetteville and around the country who would like to start similar programs for veterans, some- thing that thrills her to no end. She said that it’s still hard for her to believe how much her dream has grown in just a few short years but, walking the grounds of Ju- billee House, it’s easy to see why: Barbara’s positive attitude is absolutely infectious.

Of all the beautiful aspects of the large log home on Langdon Street, one in par- ticular stands out to Barbara:

“Ask me what my favorite part is then ask me why,” she begged. “My favorite part is the children’s room because it is glass-enclosed and sound-proofed so the women can watch their kids and make sure they’re safe, and still work at the computers and get their work done.”

In other words, keeping a steady eye on the goal but having a soft heart to the human issues, something that perfectly epitomizes the work that Barbara Marshall is doing on Langdon Street.

Barbara said that many people have offered help to Jubilee House in the days since the television crew left. On the day that CityView visited, representatives from Military Distributors of Virginia, a division of Nash Finch Company which supplies the military commissaries, were on hand to present Barbara with a check for $5,000 to be used to provide food for the home’s residents. But she says the greatest need she has is ongoing: The need for mentors. Barbara said she needs mentors and life coaches to work with the women who come and go from the home. She said volunteers should be willing to give three or four hours a week to the female veteran they are paired with. Volunteers do not need to be veterans themselves, rather only to have “a good sense of humor, compassion, be a good listener and offer good life strategies,” Barbara said.