First Smoky Mountain Stand Down a success
Last year Macon County local Mark Schuler attended a Stand Down event for veterans in Asheville and was impressed by the service it provided to veterans. So he contacted the Charles George VA Medical Center Homeless Program coordinator Allison Bond and asked her about getting together to sponsor an event in Franklin. Together, they brought together the community, the VA and state agencies to create the first annual Smokey Mountain Veterans Stand Down on Aug. 21 at the Macon County Community Center.
“The sense I got from community partners was that the veterans west of Asheville are sometimes forgotten and services are somewhat limited,” said Bond. “It was important for this community to show veterans — homeless or not — that they are valued and important.”
Franklin is in the far western part of North Carolina where veterans often live in isolated communities and services are limited. For this event, the surrounding counties — including Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Graham, Clay and Cherokee — came together to combine their efforts.
On the day of the event the Community Center parking lot was full and 178 veterans turned out. Only 12 veterans identified themselves as being homeless but other veterans were proud just to show their support for those who may be struggling. Either way, there was something for every veteran who attended, considering the dozens of organizations offering their services.
Veterans who attended had access to everything from homeless services to haircuts; other services included meals, laundry services, dental care, disabilities claims, health care enrollment, financial advice and legal help.
According to Mark Shuler a 19-member committee was formed and approached local agencies for help. The community stepped up to provide time, volunteers, resources and cash resources to offset costs. Through cash donations and T-shirt sales more than $7,000 was raised.
“The planning committee worked very hard to spread the word throughout all of the counties; there were over 50 volunteers from the community that volunteered for the Stand Down,” Bond said, “The planning committee wanted veterans who live in the western counties we serve to know that they matter; the event was so successful and was an excellent opportunity for networking.”