Vet center closer to new house

vgrooms@thesunnews.comMay 22, 2014 

The Veterans Welcome Home and Resource Center in Little River is on the verge of making its reintegration house a reality – providing a home for former military personnel as they transition back to civilian life.

The center began raising funds in November and purchased a four-bedroom home on Highway 57 that eventually will house eight veterans, said Kris Tourtellotte, who co-founded the center with Bill Matthews. A survey revealed the house hangs over the property line and must be moved 25 feet before the center can begin to renovate it, he said.

“We bought the house for $75,000 and raised almost $60,000, so we put down $40,000 and are already approved for a low-interest mortgage,” Tourtellotte said. “It will be paid for in 10 years, but we’re continuing to raise money so we can pay it off as fast as we can.”

This is the second home of this type that Tourtellotte has helped build, having established one in Rochester, N.Y., in the 1990s, he said. It has taken several weeks for the home to clear inspection and to be prepared to be shifted, but he said he expects the move to take place next week.

“It’s sometimes overwhelming because everybody is waiting for this thing to get moved, and we have so many people ready to help,” Tourtellotte said. “Everybody from county executives to veterans on the street is just waiting for us to pull this off. … We’ll get there. We know we’re doing the right thing.”

The house is going to be named after Dennis Hutton, a Marine who died from cancer related to Agent Orange exposure, and the living room will be named for the late Bill Steward, Tourtellotte said. Both men lived in the area, were behind the reintegration project and were heavily involved as veterans advocates, he said.

The center has a commitment from Home Depot to help with the house’s renovation, and a series of work projects will be scheduled with volunteers on weekends. Amy Johnston is one of seven volunteers who man the center on a consistent basis, but she said other volunteers come out when there’s a project afoot, such as bringing the half-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., to The Market Common last week.

“We’ve helped a lot of veterans, but this is Kris’ dream, to help those who need just a little extra boost to get back in society,” said Johnston, a retired lieutenant colonel and Army nurse who served in Vietnam and Desert Storm. “Right now, some of them are homeless or struggling to get a job. They’re trying to better themselves and just need a little help.”

Veterans – male and female – will be welcome as long as they are in a program or in school, Johnston said, and they will be able to live there for up to two years, rent-free, as long as they follow the rules.

“Help with the cleaning, stay clean, and take care of each other,” she said.

Tourtellotte said he expects the house to be up and running by August, and a system will be in place to select who lives there. The house sits on about 1 acre, and eventually, he said he hopes the center can build another structure on the property and expand the program.

“One thing about them is they don’t give up, and that’s the only way to get things done,” said Horry County Councilman Brent Schulz, whom Tourtellotte said has been behind the project. “I used to do a lot of military work and still have friends in Special Forces. ... Kris has been instrumental in this, and any effort those guys do, I get involved in it.”

Johnston said she has no doubt that all of the dream will come to pass.

“With [Kris’] history, he’ll do it,” she said. “He sets his mind to it and drags us all along with it.”

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