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Sept. 11 service project helps improve homes for Veterans

Veteran plants herbs in a newly installed gardenbed

Ponzy Bryant, an Army Veteran, helps paint one of the homes (helps built garden beds) as a part of the Sept. 11 National Day of Service that will be maintained by the residents at Keystone Halls). Keystone Halls is a transitional living facility that serves Veterans in Fort Lauderdale. Ninety-five volunteers spent several hours installing garden beds, painting and landscaping to beautify the complex.

By J. Elise Van Pool
Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"It motivates me to get out and do something," said Dustin Lewis, U.S. Marine and Army Veteran. "I know if the yard can change, I can change too."

Veterans and other volunteers came together on Sept. 11 to beatify the Keystone Halls transitional living facility where many formerly homeless Veterans are making new lives for themselves. The projects included the installation of new garden beds, picnic tables and benches and painting one of the buildings that serves as a home for Veterans.

"It started as a project for them to learn a new skill and it's grown into this," said Rebecca Apperson a case manager at Keystone Halls, who originally got the idea for the gardens.

The work done on Sept. 11 was just first of many projects in a larger effort to help the Veterans living at Keystone Halls. The project is a collaborative effort between the Miami Veteran's Administration's Grant and Per Diem Program, Keystone Halls and HandsOn Broward.

"This is really just going to be the first step in several projects," said Sander Schrantz, the director of special projects with HandsOn Broward, the group that organized the project. "We hope to paint all the buildings, do murals, plant gardens, do landscaping, build benches, both at this site and the other sites they have.

"We are really excited to use this as a catalyst to kick that off that process," said Schrantz.

The program at Keystone Halls is aimed at giving formerly homeless veterans the skills to be successful in society, including job training, life skills training, and substance abuse counseling. The program there is an example of the VA's Grant and Per Diem program that partners with non-profits like Keystone Halls to provide homeless Veterans the services and support they need to get back on their feet.

"A lot of our Vets are disabled so they can't really go out, so they are around and it was an idea to get them involved in something for them to do. I am hoping, the Veterans will get a sense of accomplishment by learning a new skill and taking that forward," said Apperson.

The volunteers from several organizations including HandsOn Broward, American Express and the Miami Job Corps, worked for several house on the projects. In total 95 people participated in the event that lasted several hours.

Keystone Halls is a transitional living facility that helps the homeless, most of whom are Veterans. The non-profit provides substance abuse counseling, job skills training, in addition to other case management services for residents. They are part of the VA's Grant and Per Diem Program, which provides grants to non-profits and other government agencies that support homeless Veterans.

For more information on how to help homeless Veterans please go to http://www.va.gov/homeless/#veterans-tab.

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