For men and women who have served our nation and now need a helping hand, a band of 20 dedicated volunteers in Little River, SC is there to help. They are gladly and without reservation serving those who have bravely and honorably served our nation.
It is through their hard work and their service that the Veterans Welcome Home & Resource Center in Little River, SC is able to help more than 750 veterans per year, many of whom are homeless or destitute, or both.
Its main mission is to assist our local military veterans with job placement, filing VA claims, helping those veterans who find themselves in deep financial difficulties, and to shelter those honorably discharged veterans who are homeless. It works with a wide network of organizations, churches and local businesses to provide support.
The Center is led by its director, Ron Wilson, a Vietnam veteran who is a 23-year veteran of the Dearborn, MI police department, a professor of criminal justice for 32 years and an attorney since 1986. Wilson clearly has all of the background and experience needed, but it is more than that. He is dedicated and determined to do his best on behalf of our nation’s veterans, succeeding Chris Tourtolette, the founder and first director of the Center who retired after 42 years of service.
“For me, it’s a payback,” Wilson explained. “I’ve been fortunate in what I’ve accomplished in my life with the help of a lot of people. I like to be able to share and do what I can to help.”
The Resource Center is located in a four-bedroom house whose mortgage is free and clear thanks to a single donor. There are three single bedrooms, a suite with its own bathroom, a master bath, living room and kitchen. It provides a welcoming place for homeless vets as they strive to get on their feet.
It is called the “Hutton House,” named in honor of a dedicated U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Denny Hutton, who worked closely with Tourtolette in getting the home launched and then supporting it prior to his death.
In addition, there is a converted 42-ft. storage unit, The Rotary House, that has been turned into an apartment to help an individual veteran who is working to save enough money to find his or her own place to live. It got its name because of help provided by the local Rotary Club.
Donations and strong community support from many other organizations, churches and local businesses make it possible for the Center to do its work on behalf of veterans. The ramp leading to the front door of The Rotary House was built as an Eagle Scout project, for example. Clothing for vets is provided by Goodwill Industries and furniture by St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in North Myrtle Beach.
The Red Hat Ladies pitch in to help. The Helping Hands organization provides pastry, breads and produce. A local farmer provides fresh eggs. The local Elks Club provides groceries. A nearby Methodist church makes sure vets in need have food. The local Democratic organization is contributing from its golf fundraising proceeds this year, as do other groups.
Most of the veterans served there are older -- the average age is 58. Most are men, but each year about 20 female veterans are among those who benefit from the facility.
Wilson says most homeless vets -- 85 to 90 percent -- are "living off the grid and don't want anybody's help." But, he adds, "Those we take in, many are living in their cars. We work closely with them to make sure they are fed, have clothes. They have no expenses so they can get their finances together and get their own place." The average stay for vets who are housed by the Center is five months.
The Center relies entirely on contributions. In fact, 96.6 percent of every dollar contributed goes directly to help veterans. What about the rest? It's used for utilities and other operational expenses. There are no salaries.
Veterans who are served by the Center are grateful. Said one in this post on the Center's Facebook page:
"This place has been fantastic! If you're a Veteran these people will go to any lengths to help you in any way with no thought of themselves. No matter what your need is if these guys can't help you they love veterans enough to show you where the help is. John and Scott have helped me so much. They helped me with resources, claims, and have been there for me emotionally and I'm so grateful for them and Veterans Welcome Home and Resource Center."