WEST HUMBOLDT PARK — Thirteen young volunteers teamed up with some veterans Wednesday to help spruce up the veterans’ digs at Hope Manor Apartments and remember Sept. 11.
The Notre Dame AmeriCorps volunteers (not affiliated with the university) wanted to do something for the September 11th National Day of Service and Remembrance — launched in 2002 to promote charitable works on Sept. 11 — and found the two-year-old Hope Manor Apartments for veterans needed a little work on their grounds.
“We helped with landscaping, pulling weeds, laying mulch and just beautifying the grounds and common area,” said Kristin Miodonski, Chicago site director for Notre Dame Mission Volunteers-AmeriCorps. “We got everything done that we wanted to, and there was a real sense of camaraderie with the volunteers and the veterans.”
The state-of-the art building, completed in 2011, is home to 80 veterans and provides services to help them find jobs and avoid homelessness.
Fifty of the veterans have their rent paid in full by grants from the Veterans Administration while the other 30 pay reduced rent through the Chicago Housing Authority.
Charles “Chris” Craft is one of the tenants who has struggled with homelessness after serving in the Marine Corps in the 1980s.
The 48-year-old recounted is struggles with disability to the volunteers at a meeting where they reflected about the work they’d done.
“I didn’t want to get up this morning,” he told the young volunteers. “My arm hurt, my leg hurt, everything hurt — but it hurts less because of you.”
After the reflection meeting he told of what living in Hope Manor has done for him.
“Hope Manor has helped me tremendously,” he said. “It took off a lot of the pressures of bills, and rent … and it’s good being around these veterans that have been through the same trials and tribulations. We’re all different, but in a sense there’s a continuity.”
Craft exhibited obvious pride in place that’s been his home for the past year, showing off amenities such as a gym, computer lab and barbecue pits in the backyard common area.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, some 13 percent of homeless people are veterans, and places like Hope Manor are a lifeline.
"They'll have to tear the building down to get me out of here," joked Craft's 59-year-old roommate, Charles Jackson.
The two even struck an impromptu pose for a photograph with a volunteer there to provide arts and crafts projects for the residents, making the sense of cheer and community all the more evident.
Miodonski said they and other tenants passed that cheer onto the visiting volunteers.
"They said we made them hopeful for the next generation, which was really sweet," she said.