Group hopes to resume veterans center project

By Alex Bridges

Despite setbacks, a local group still plans to turn a Strasburg home into a center for military veterans.

The Disabled Veterans Committee on Housing kicked off a project last summer to renovate a house at 358 S. Massanutten St. into a place for homeless veterans or those at risk of losing their homes. In late August, the organization entered into a contract to buy the property from owners Richard and Amy Richmond.

But a year has passed and the project remains unfinished.

The organization has since changed its name to the Veterans Community Resource and its leadership. Jorge Gutierrez has taken over as the chairman of the organization’s board of directors, succeeding group founder John Lewandowski who remains involved as a consultant. Lewandowski stepped down earlier this year when his wife became ill.

Hali Acquisitions has stepped forward as an investor to buy the property, Gutierrez said Thursday. The group had the property appraised last week. The investor should make a determination then as to the financial support it would give to the group, Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez is retired from the U.S. Army as a command sergeant major and runs the Woodstock-based Business Management & Operations Consulting firm.

“The demolition part of the old property has been done already,” Gutierrez said. “There’s been some new carpentry work completed, but I called the project to a halt because we didn’t have any funds.”

The group may resume the renovations as early as January once they obtain the initial funding from the investor.

In the past year the organization held a few fundraisers and had some work done inside the building. The group also did not receive money raised by an event coordinated by Richard Perryman, one-time owner of the Strasburg Theatre later convicted of fraud.

“The fundraisers yielded negligible results,” Gutierrez said. “While we didn’t raise the capital we needed, we did raise the awareness. So I don’t think we lost anything other than a little bit of time on the schedule.”

Despite the setbacks and delays, the organization has made progress with the project. Ruckman Engineering developed the design for the center at a cost of several thousand dollars that the group must still pay. Gutierrez said he expects the house to cost $300,000 before any renovations. But having an investor on board to buy the property should help the group’s efforts, Gutierrez said. The investor likely would then lease the property to the organization.

Support continues to grow for the project. The United Way of the Northern Shenandoah Valley recently awarded a grant of more than $4,000 to help with the project. Gutierrez said the organization has also had support from the Strasburg Chamber of Commerce and the American Legion.

“The Chamber has really embraced us,” Gutierrez said, adding that the American Legion raised about $1,000 for the project.

Once built, the center would serve as a place for veterans to stay on a temporary basis, receive assistance in acclimating to civilian life and to find permanent housing.

The organization last year received a grant from the Home Depot Foundation’s Celebration of Service — an initiative aimed at preventing homelessness among veterans. Team Home Depot also joined the effort to build the veterans’ center.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com