A new outreach service for armed forces veterans started in Little River 11 months ago, and support from the community has exceeded expectations of founder and director Kris Tourtellotte. "The last couple of months have been kind of tight" financially, Tourtellotte says. But "everything is coming together," and the future for the center is "looking good," he told members of the Rotary Club of Little River last week as a check for $1,000 was presented at the Veterans Welcome Home & Resource Center.
The money from a fundraiser oyster roast and dinner was particularly timely as the center's checking account was low. The Knights of Columbus of Our Lady Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church donated $2,300 from the sale of holiday wreaths and other important support has come from the Lions Club of Little River, the Little River Elks, American Legion Post 186, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10804, American Legion Riders of Murrells Inlet, Rolling Thunder S.C. 3, and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.
The center is in a small white house on Mulberry Street, a block off busy U.S. 17 in the heart of old Little River. As several Rotarians crowded around a table, Tourtellotte told them, "Five years from now when we get together, the meeting room will be big enough that we can all sit around the table." From its opening last May through December, "we saw 150 veterans," he says. "Fifteen in a week is a busy week."
The center has 36 partners in organizations that assist veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs "is really, really getting on board."
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The center continues to operate solely with volunteers. "Nobody here gets paid," Tourtellotte says. Costs are $1,000 a month for renting the house and utilities. The budgetary goal for this year is $24,000. "We want to get more programs [and] want to get a van eventually." The center will benefit from the expanded Military Appreciation Days May 28-31. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin will be the grand marshal of a parade on Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach and is scheduled to present a check to the center, Tourtellotte says. "I can certainly outdance him," he told the Rotarians last week, a reference to Aldrin's appearances on "Dancing With the Stars."
The center also especially will benefit from an all-day fundraiser, "All About Veterans" July 3 at Oasis Bar on S.C. 9 in Longs. The event is planned for 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with several bands scheduled to perform.
Tourtellotte, an eight-year Army veteran who served three tours in Vietnam, has undergone surgery for leg injuries. He receives a disability pension as a result of his combat injury. Prior to moving here four years ago, he was director of the resource center at the Veterans Outreach Center in Rochester, N.Y., a paid position he quit a higher-paying job to take.
Tourtellotte is often called "Turtle," from his family name. He says he started and runs the center as a volunteer because "it's absolutely needed. I do it because I'm happier now flat broke [and helping veterans] than making $60,000" in a federal civil service job.