After more than three years of searching, the Carroll County Veterans Independence Project found an office in Westminster that will become the one-stop shop for veterans services.
The Veterans Services Center at 95 Carroll Street, Suite 104, will help veterans and their families by providing case management services, mentors, volunteer opportunities, education, career preparation and more. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there were 11,000 veterans in Carroll County as of July 2019.
While there is no shortage of organizations willing to help veterans, Frank Valenti, president of the Carroll County Veterans Independence Project (CCVIP), feels there is a need to coordinate these resources in one place. CCVIP became a nonprofit in 2017 to achieve that goal.
“It’s a holistic approach, bringing all those resources together with the knowledge of the board and the knowledge of the people we hire,” Valenti said.
CCVIP board members gathered Friday to celebrate securing the Carroll Street facility lease, which is effective Nov. 1. .
The road to this day wasn’t easy. Starting in November of 2017, the group tried to gain approval from the federal government to transform a former U.S. Army Reserve building in Westminster into the veterans services center, with a homeless shelter. After two applications were denied, it decided to seek another site. The building is now up for sale by the county, years after the federal government gave it to Carroll.
CCVIP Vice President Ed Cramer has been working with Valenti for more than three years to bring the Veterans Services Center dream to fruition.
“This is all about our veterans and trying to establish that center in order to provide a center point in the county to bring together and help coordinate and facilitate all of the services," Cramer said.
Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, a longtime supporter of the project, recalled the life of local veterans advocate Mike “Mad Dog” Sater.
“I wish he was alive to see it," Weaver said.
Sater, a U.S. Army veteran, died after a motorcycle accident in 2015. The Carroll Veterans Shuttle is emblazoned with Sater’s nickname in his honor.
Valenti hopes the Veterans Services Center can open in early 2021, but first they need to set up the physical space and hire an executive director. They’re seeking someone who can be a public face of the nonprofit, help fundraise, offer creative ideas and manage the organization, Valenti said.
The center will have a paid staff but also be supported by volunteers and work with organizations such as Carroll County Government, Access Carroll, the Literacy Council of Carroll County, Carroll Community College and Human Services Programs of Carroll County.
The dream of providing a shelter for homeless veterans is on the horizon. For now, Valenti said the first goal is to get the office up and running, then find a house that could serve as a shelter.
Those interested in supporting CCVIP can learn more by visiting carrollcountyvip.org.