The Sun News

Female veterans to get a helping hand

Margaret Flowers
Margaret Flowers

Kathleen resident Margaret Flowers is bringing together Genesis Joy House, a location and organization to help women who served in the military.

Residence: Kathleen

Occupation: Executive director/founder, Genesis Joy House

Q: What stage are you at in opening the Genesis Joy House?

A: We’re shooting for December, so the end of this year. Will we make it? I’m not saying it’s absolutely going to be open but if we get the volunteers and help we need that’s what we’re after. It can happen.

Q: Can you explain the mission of Genesis Joy House?

A: It’s to serve and advocate for women who’ve served us, our country, through military service but find themselves homeless, displaced, disabled and needing help getting back on track. But let me say even though we’re not housing women yet it hasn’t stopped us from helping. We’re already being contacted and putting women veterans in touch with other help and services.

Q: Referring them to needed services?

A: That’s right. We work cooperatively now and will do the same when our facilities open. We’ll provide a place to stay, learn, get healing, get up and running and back on track, all to combat chronic homelessness and help women vets.

Q: How will that look?

A: Some may come because of homelessness due to losing a job, ending a relationship, getting out of an abusive situation or other life situation. They could be coming from the streets, from a VA program or even after being released from incarceration or a drug program. They’ll enter our program for 90 to 120 days and when they’re done they’ll have a job and place to live.

Q: They’ll get room, board, training, counseling — all of it?

A: Yes. Some training will be in-house, like life skills from basic home care, cooking and cleaning to practical finances to practical relationship issues. This isn’t a flop house. During the day they’ll be actively involved in bettering their situation. We’re already working with counselors, including professionally licensed counselors with expertise in PTSD, overcoming military sexual trauma and drug and alcohol treatment. We’ll be help them connect to needed services and opportunities to help their emotional and physical health. We have connections to area educational programs and are excited to work with the new Georgia VECTR Center at the south end of Armed Forces Boulevard.

Q: And what is that?

A: The Veterans Education Career Transition Resource Center and its goal is to help veterans and their families transition into the state’s public colleges, universities and workforce.

Q: When did you first get the idea for Genesis Joy House?

A: Probably 15 years ago. I knew my God-given purpose was to help others. I have a full-time job but have always been involved through church and other ways in service to others. It seems one way or another I always got put in charge of visiting crack neighborhoods and places others were scared to go. To me it was just never overwhelming. My awareness of homeless issues grew and I became more and more aware of the staggering number of female veterans who are homeless and how sadly underserved they are. I think it’s historic we’re the first women veteran’s homeless shelter in Houston County, an area that appreciates its veterans and active duty military. We’re not aiming at putting a bandage on the problem; we want to pull the bandage off and help with real healing and solutions.

Q: When did you actively start working toward Genesis Joy House?

A: January, 2011. Actually, in December, 2010, I said, “OK, I’m stepping out in faith and starting,” and we started working on paperwork, began getting charitable status — which we have — and doing the things necessary to begin, including searching for a facility.

Q: Can you talk about your facility?

A: It’s a real miracle, a real blessing to us and will be to others. A property was donated by an area businessman just a few blocks from Robins Air Force Base at 501 Marshall Ave. Amazingly, it has studio apartments, a separate two-story building and a house near the road.

Q: How many women will you be able to house?

A: Ten in the studio apartments, six in the two-story house and four in the front house, so 20. That’s the plan.

Q: Assuming spaces will start filling up next year, where would you say these women are right now?

A: There are different levels of homelessness, so right now some would be living with other people, not in their own home or apartment. Some are shuffling between one place and another and others are literally living on the streets or in the woods. It’s heartbreaking.

Q: Literally in the woods?

A: Oh, yes. It is heartbreaking. We’ve already pulled women, veterans, out of local wooded areas they’re living in and helped them find better situations. These are women who served our country. It’s sad anybody is in that sort of situation much less those who served our county. There are all kinds of reasons people end up in those circumstances but can you imagine? These vets need our help. Some women are in VA facilities and we’re also working with the VA.

Q: How can people help you?

A: Through volunteering to do renovation work and donating toward it. And donating toward operations. Our facilities are suited to our needs but in real disrepair, including fire damage. Restoration is dependent on volunteer workers and we can use carpenters, sheet rock people, flooring people, plumbers, electricians, HVAC people, painters, landscapers, people who do tree removal, gravel and crush run people — all these and about anybody else. Builders and contractors that can volunteer or volunteer crews as in-kind donations are really needed and appreciated. Individual help is needed. A number of area businesses are donating supplies so we mainly need people to do the work. And, of course, more donations are always needed and welcomed. Warner Robins provided a $35,000 community development block grant for asbestos abatement and removal in the two-story building. That’s a big deal.

Q: How do people volunteer?

A: Christina Davis schedules work and handles that and donations. She can be reached at 478-951-0202. We’re doing work most Saturdays when we can get anyone to come. It’s best to schedule it but if someone happens to drop by and we’re working they’re welcome. But call Christina, especially crews that can come work. We’ve had a lot of help from base people but not as much as we’d hoped from the community.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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