From its start four years ago, the Veterans Welcome Home Center in Little River has had “huge community support” in the words of the center’s founder and volunteer director, Kris “Turtle” Tourtellotte. Contributions and volunteers have come from a variety of organizations, military-related and non-military.
Now, in a fundraising campaign to purchase a five-bedroom home for a re-integration center, Tourtellotte is thinking in terms of $1 donations from 100,000 individuals. Really, he needs 70,000 $1 bills (or only 700 Ben Franklin notes), because the campaign has raised $30,000. The point is, “we’ve got to switch gears here – I’m just not getting to the right people,” he says.
“Everybody loves it [the idea of a residential extension of the center],” but the enthusiasm has not resulted in the needed financial support, although the house fund has grown. Help A Vet, the nonprofit founded by Hugh Robinson of Murrells Inlet, made a recent contribution. Robinson’s thrust is to raise money for veterans organization such as the center. The re-integration house would be for veterans in any program enabling them fully return to civilian life.
They must be employable and actively looking for a job – or in college or technical school. Another example might be a veteran who has a valid claim pending with the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. Tourtellotte recalled a couple who came to the center recently, desperate with no place to go. They were placed at the North Strand Housing Shelter and provided gasoline vouchers and meals and the man very soon received “a good sum of money” from his VA claim.
“Our main goal is to re-integrate returning veterans” so they are employed, “paying taxes and buying groceries at the local store” as Tourtellotte puts it. “If you’re not working towards a goal of employment, you can’t stay.” The re-integration house would be similar but much smaller, than one he helped start in Rochester, N.Y. The residential extension plan has a commitment from Home Depot Foundation for renovation on the house, next to the center on Stella Court, in a neighborhood a block off U.S. 17 in Little River. The Home Depot pledge greatly reduced the original $300,000 goal.
Home Depot Foundation also is underwriting repairs of individual veterans’ homes in Little River ($8,000) and Myrtle Beach ($15,000). “They’re doing stuff we desperately need. They’re not just talking – they are really stepping up.”
The employment aspect of helping veterans has been enhanced by volunteer employment and financial planner Charlie Werder, who saw Tourtellotte on television and for a month and a half has been volunteering at the center on Wednesdays. Seeing him will be required for veterans readjusting to civilian life.
Meanwhile, Tourtellotte is hoping and looking for other volunteers who can help further grow that $30,000 for the re-integration house. Military veterans, in organizations and as individuals, consistently have demonstrated big hearts for many causes. In this one, they deserve and will welcome all support. Raising money for the house would be a terrific project for any service club or group in the area.