This story is courtesy of George Barnes and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. A link to the original story can be found here.
GARDNER, Mass. — Recalling a visit to Leslie A. Lightfoot's office in Fitchburg a few years ago, state Sen. Stephen M. Brewer, D-Barre, remembered seeing a display of more than 20 flags folded like those given to families of veterans at funerals.
“I asked her about them and what she told me was that often she is the only one there at the funeral to accept it,” Mr. Brewer said. “Think about the fidelity, the loyalty, the compassion Leslie Lightfoot has for these veterans.”
Ms. Lightfoot is chief executive officer of Veteran Homestead and the driving force behind the Northeast Veteran Training & Rehabilitation Center being built next to Mount Wachusett Community College.
At an event Oct. 16, 2009 celebrating the near-completion of the first phase of the center, state Secretary of Veterans Services Thomas G. Kelley went a step further in praising Ms. Lightfoot. He said a colleague once referred to her as “the angel of mercy.” Mr. Kelley said the project she is working on is another example of the many things Ms. Lightfoot has done for veterans in the state.
“The angel of mercy has struck again,” he said. “I don't know how she is going to top this.”
The training and rehabilitation center, which is believed to be the nation's first residential treatment and education place for veterans and their families, is to have 20 housing units and a rehabilitation facility to serve veterans recovering from traumatic injuries, both mental and physical. Ten units already have been built.
The privately funded project, which Ms. Lightfoot said is expected to cost between $7.5 million and $8 million, is being built off Kelton Street on the shores of a pond owned by the community college. Veteran Homestead is paying for the center through grants and donations, including a $4.5 million grant from the Iraq Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund of California.
Ms. Lightfoot said every contractor who worked on the project donated something, whether it was labor or materials.
The center is situated on 10 acres leased for 30 years to the Veteran Homestead by the college. Instead of charging rent, however, the college asked that students from the nursing and allied health programs have internship opportunities there. The veterans also will be able to use the college facilities and take courses.
Daniel M. Asquino, president of Mount Wachusett Community College, said the decision to build the treatment center on property owned by the community college is appropriate. He said the state's community college system was created and grew to meet the needs of veterans returning from World War II. The center will meet the needs of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr. Kelley said he, Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray and Richard Freeland, commissioner of the state Department of Higher Education, were part of a discussion among 55 college representatives earlier in the day about what colleges need to do to meet the needs of veterans attending college after returning from war. They discussed what the veterans bring to the campuses and what the campuses can do for the veterans to make them part of the college family.
“This program is going to do so much to make people feel like they are part of the family,” Mr. Kelley said.
Maj. Gen. Joseph C. Carter, adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard, said the center will be an important part of the National Guard's efforts to reintegrate returning veterans.
“The Northeast Veterans Training and Rehabilitation Center should become a national model,” he said.
The keynote speaker, Brig. Gen. Loree K. Sutton, director of the Defense Centers for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, said it's important that people be kind because everyone is fighting internal battles. She said the center will be a place where veterans and their families can fight those battles.
Families will be able to stay with veterans who are going through rehabilitation. Each of the 20 buildings has two bedrooms, a living room area and laundry and cooking facilities. Each building except two will be named for a veteran who was killed in Iraq and Afghanistan or veterans who had honorable service in the wars. One each will be named for Mr. Brewer and former New England Patriots special teams captain Larry Izzo, who was a major donor and supporter of the project.
Mr. Brewer said the center will offer veterans suffering from traumatic amputations a chance to get their lives back by teaching them such simple things as how to bait a hook or how to change a baby's diaper with one arm.
In keeping with the college's renewable energy initiatives, the buildings are being built to specifications for green buildings and are equipped with geothermal heating and cooling systems and photovoltaic panels for electricity.