Chicken-raising might not fit the job description for an international organization’s executive director, but Nancy Verespy hatched chickens in her Pittston Township office as a farming program got under way at the Veterans Coalition’s Beacon House in South Dakota.
Out west, the Beacon House chicken barn was under construction and the cold weather was not good for egg-hatching, so Verespy kept the eggs warm at the local office. Now, more than 380 chickens are laying eggs daily to be collected by veterans looking to get back on their feet through the Beacon House program, Verespy said.
The Veterans Coalition has 27 Beacon Houses in the United States. The nonprofit group is headquartered in Pittston Township.
Two centers are in South Dakota and 25 in New York, where volunteers work to help more than 600 veterans either return to the workforce or live out the rest of their days with dignity. It’s a movement to end veteran homelessness, something coalition President Peter J. Forbes said has been tried and failed by every U.S. President since George H.W. Bush.
Forbes is a Vietnam War veteran who fought for Australia, his home country. A farmer by trade and a grant writer, Forbes oversees the Veterans Coalition’s Australian operations as well as its efforts in the United States.
Forbes remembered a World War II veteran named John who was homeless and living in an abandoned storage container in McAdoo. John had glaucoma and could see only shadows, he said.
When cooking over a fire, John could not see enough to tell if the food cooked through, so he often dipped his finger into scalding pots, Forbes said. Over time, John lost all the skin and feeling from his index finger, he said.
Coalition volunteers took John to a Beacon House in New York where he spent the rest of his days. On the way to New York, they stopped for lunch. “He said he hadn’t had a Reuben (sandwich) for 32 years,” Forbes said. “He sat there and there wasn’t a scrap left on his plate, and he couldn’t even see it.”
In South Dakota, the short-stay veterans work on full-functioning farms, raising chickens and growing organic food. They’re given a two-year cap on their stay at the Beacon House, and volunteers help them to find a job and a place to live.
The veterans learn skills appropriate for their communities. In New York, the methods are much different, with volunteers helping set up job interviews and transport veterans to work every day.