Volunteers work to create safe place for men, women who have served their country

Volunteer Trista Sheffield helps paint the walls in the administrative office at Home Port Veterans Transition Home in Macon during a work day Saturday.
Volunteer Trista Sheffield helps paint the walls in the administrative office at Home Port Veterans Transition Home in Macon during a work day Saturday. jvorhees@macon.com

A Macon facility that was vacant for more than a decade is becoming a safe haven for veterans.

Every three months, volunteers meet at the former Villager Lodge motel on Harrison Road to continue renovations on Home Port, a veterans transition home. On Saturday, they were working on counseling rooms and offices, a chapel and a recreation room, said Mac McAfee, site manager and an Air Force veteran.

George Brown, John Davis and Venkat Sanjeev founded the project about three years ago, and American Legion Riders of Post 172 in Warner Robins began organizing regular volunteer work dates, said Brown, a Marine Corps veteran. Helpers have included members of VFW posts, American Legion chapters, Junior ROTC programs, car and motorcycle clubs, churches, local businesses and other veterans clubs, organizers said.

Between 50 and 60 volunteers normally pitch in throughout the seven-hour work days, and lunch is provided for the resident veterans and volunteers. Home Depot and Granger have been the biggest financial supporters for the project, Brown said.

Thirty-two of 100 units have been renovated, and veterans are already living in them. The housing is open to male and female veterans and their families. It costs $500 a month for a single unit and $700 a month for a double unit. A pending grant could allow all the units to be completed by the end of June, Brown said.

Rodney Blitch and Benny Brantley, who started the work days with American Legion Riders of Post 172, said the goal is to see Home Port Macon filled with veterans and self-sustaining.

"There are way too many veterans that do not have a place to go," Brantley said. "We just want people to know more about this place and that it's here."

The veterans need a safe play to stay because they kept everyone else safe at one point, said Irene Blankenship, a member of the Guardians of American Legion riding club who has been helping out at the work days since the beginning.

Veterans will be able to receive counseling services on site and get job training and assistance with their benefits. Brown was spurred to start the project after his friend who was a veteran committed suicide. Psychological and mental health issues can lead veterans to substance abuse, incarceration and homelessness, Brown said. He hopes that Home Port Macon will help defy those odds.

"(Veterans) need to be honored more than anybody else," Blankenship said. "If we can't show them we care, they're going to think we don't care."

The recreation room will include pool and foosball tables and a big screen TV, Mcafee said. The chapel will be open to everyone, and should be able to seat 100-150 people during services. Once the ballroom is renovated, it will be rented out for special events to raise money to help veterans, Brown said.