By Lee Vorderer
Under warm sunny skies, an audience of several hundred friends, families, collaborating partners, and Veterans heard each organization behind Bedford Green say, “Welcome Home!”
Two of Bedford’s new Veteran neighbors – James Bancroft and Michael Sexton – spoke about moving to Bedford and the long path they followed to get here. Bancroft said, “my heart is full again”, and that described the hearts of everyone there – hearts full of gratitude, joy, and welcome.
There was humor – Sexton talked about being proud of filling in all the paperwork necessary; one speaker, Jim Reed, Regional Administrator for Housing and Urban Development, threatened to stay standing and talking for a while, since it was much cooler standing than sitting on the dais.
There were lots of details about the complex and the slow process of bringing all the players together.
There were thanks to Bedford, for being a Town that both wanted to have housing for Homeless Veterans in the Town and where Town leaders went above and beyond to make sure that Bedford did all it could to support the development of Bedford Green.
But mostly, there was pride – in making it all work, in having the partners that took Bedford Green from a plan to a building, in having 69 new neighbors to bring their gifts and stories to the fabric of Bedford.
The Honor Guard from the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home and the Color Guard from Marine Corps Combat Logistics Battalion 451 posted the Colors and retired them to begin and end the ceremony. Bedford’s Cynthia Mork sang the Star-Spangled Banner, and Cheryl Spencer, a Veteran living at Bedford Green, led us all in the Pledge of Allegiance.
We all take part in such ceremonies often, and maybe we don’t give a lot of thought to the words we say or sing, but today the words rang clear; several in the audience said it felt like they were saying “thank you” to everyone there for making a commitment to our Veterans.
Among the dignitaries present on the podium – All images (c) Bob Bass, 2016 all rights reserved
Serving as master of ceremonies, Kenneth Link, the Chief of Social Work at the Edith Nourse Rogers Veteran’s Memorial Hospital, greeted everyone, introduced speakers and moved the program along. Speakers from Peabody Properties and Windover Construction talked about Bedford Green as a milestone in the Veteran’s Administration’s effort to end Veteran’s homelessness, and expressed their pride in bringing the project to fruition. “Persistence doesn’t begin to describe it,” said several speakers in reference to the efforts of Betsy Collins from Peabody Properties as she steered the project from initial concept to final reality.
Several guests spoke of the patience needed – from Peabody Property’s receiving the go-ahead from the VA five years ago, to laying the cornerstone 13 months ago, to cutting the ribbon today. Designers, builders, funders, political leaders, supporters, VA staff and Veterans worked in partnership to make decisions, to take small steps, to engage interest, and to give back to the Veterans who gave so much to our country.
Tom Lyons, Director of Communications and GovernmentAffairs for Mass Housing, said that many towns are happy to say thank you to Veterans but say no thank you to Veterans Housing. He remarked how different Bedford was, right from the beginning, in thanking, welcoming, and participating in Bedford Green. Lyons closed his remarks with a quote that made everyone look in a fresh way at the project. He said, “Poor is the nation who has no heroes; shameful is the nation who has them and forgets”.
An important partner throughout Bedford Green’s development has been The Home Depot Foundation. One of Home Depot’s goals is to help insure that Veterans have safe places to live. Over the last five years, Home Depot has contributed $135 million to low-income housing, of which a major share has been dedicated to Veteran housing. Scott Selmecki, from the Foundation, said “Home Depot sees its duty to give back to those who have given so much to us. Thank you for your service and your unwavering commitment to making the world a better place for us all”.
While the land where Bedford Green was built is part of the VA campus, the land had a history before the VA, and Don Corey, President of Bedford Historical Society, reminded everyone that Bedford’s commitment to the military has deep roots. He gave a brief description of Bedford’s role in the American Revolution, and said that after World War I, Bedford unanimously voted to locate the Veteran’s Administration Hospital here. Edith Nourse Rogers was the first Inspector of Veterans Hospitals,helped to draft the GI Bill of Rights after World War II, and as a congresswoman,long advocated for Veterans in Congress. With the Hospital and with Hanscom Air Force base, Bedford continues its strong military connection.
Local leaders – Catherine Racer , Associate Director for Massachusetts’s Department of Housing and Community Development; Roger Herzog, Executive Director of the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation, Tom Lyons from Mass Housing; Francisco Urena, Secretary of Veterans Services in Massachusetts – all spoke of the thrill they felt in seeing Bedford Green become a reality and how proud they were that Massachusetts leads the Nation when it comes to Veteran’s Services.
Federal and Regional leaders – Jim Reed from HUD; Craig Coldwell from the VA New England Healthcare System; Paul Macpherson, Director of Investment Enterprise Development Services at the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs, and Dennis Magnasco, Veteran’s Liaison for Congressman Seth Moulton – all spoke of the commitment, the collaborative spirit, and the critical role of “partner” that participants played.
Among all the expressions of pride and success and good feeling, one sentiment rang loud and clear from everyone present – speakers and audience members alike – and it was directed to all the Veterans who will now make Bedford their new home: “Welcome Home!”