Job skills program for veterans kicks off in Austell
by Ellen Eldridge
June 20, 2014 04:00 AM | 2283 views | 1 1 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
AUSTELL — Veterans facing homelessness have a new place to hone job skills after a new training program kicked off Thursday afternoon in Austell.

The Rescue Repurpose Redeem program is partnered with and housed inside the nonprofit Sweetwater Mission at 6289 Veterans Memorial Highway, 12-A. According to its website, Sweetwater is a coalition of local churches, businesses, civic groups and individuals providing basic needs since 1968.

To be accepted into the program, a veteran has to have been homeless for at least a year, said founder and program director Stephanie McKay. She is a crafter who plans to reach out to the creative community, including Savannah College of Art and Design and Kennesaw State University for help training veterans — called “artisans” in the program — to learn more specific job skills.

Through McKay’s guidance, the artisans would make items such as pincushions, wallets and Christmas ornaments with materials donated by the community. The program’s website, rescuerepurposeredeem.org, says “all revenue will be used to sustain the business and supplement program needs that are not fully met and the organization’s general operating budget.”

“Taking something discarded and making something that is usable gives the artisans a sense of integrity and pride,” McKay said. “The end result is self-sufficiency.”

McKay said she feels homeless veterans have been “pushed to the edge” and “disenfranchised” to the point that as much as they want to participate in the community, they can’t necessarily participate in the same ways as others, such as working 8-hour workdays or working during the day as opposed to overnight. McKay’s program will help provide nontraditional alternatives to growing people’s self worth, she said.

“I hope to find ways for people to participate and become useful as well as earn money and become valued members of the community,” she said.

People who have been “devalued” because of their circumstance, McKay said, shouldn’t be discarded.

“He’s not homeless — that’s his circumstance” she said. “Part of my mission in the work is trying to see past people’s circumstance.”

The program’s goal is to get veterans back to a point where they can be self-supportive, McKay said.

“These are people who couldn’t support themselves on their own,” McKay said. “They needed help.”

“This program, supported by its customers, is about providing an opportunity to have self worth, integrity and to feel good about themselves,” said Cobb County BoC Chairman Tim Lee, who attended Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony with his wife, Annette.

Lee said he believes the Sweetwater Mission has proven its leadership ability with past projects and tackling veterans’ issues helps strengthen the community.

“I truly believe this is a wonderful program,” Lee said, adding his approval any time a community takes leadership for veterans.

“Veteran homelessness is a significant issue,” he said, noting a veteran services office is opening in about two months at the senior center at 1150 Powder Springs St.

“We have targeted programs to help address veterans’ issues,” Lee said, including the county’s plan to open a veterans accountability court opening next month, which will work as an alternative to prosecution, focused on treatment and accountability, instead of incarceration.

Two artisans are already in the program: Shawn Watts and Arthur “Art” McDaniel.

“It’s been a long journey, but we’re here now,” McKay said in her opening speech before the ribbon-cutting.

McKay said the program expects to expand to a dozen or more artisans over the next three months.

She thanked those who collaborated on the program, including Kennesaw State University’s Entrepreneurial Action By Us and The Home Depot.

The Home Depot stripped out the wire shelving in the back room, built custom cabinets and completed a workshop for the artisans, said Dennis Loubiere, coordinator for KSU’s ENACTUS team.

“The ENACTUS team helped the three R’s program with support and a business plan,” Loubiere said, adding the team sent one of the artisans in the program to the training program, from which he graduated last month.

“I want to personally thank you for giving me the confidence to face my fears,” Watts said to the program founder.

“Each time we lift up one person, we bring the community up,” Lee said. “Now it’s time to spread the word.”

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Alicia Newton
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June 21, 2014
Great to see our community stepping up to uphold the dignity of our Veterans. The disarray at the VA is a shame. Thank you Stephanie McKay for your service!
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