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Tiny Homes at Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin

June 04, 2018

Cameron Swallow, wife of new Carthage President John Swallow, is on a “Welcome Home Tour” as she gets to know the area. See all of Cameron’s Welcome Home posts

This week’s tour guides: Larry Gums ’19 and Carthage Theatre Professor Martin McClendon

“Freedom lives here!”

At first, I thought it was just a patriotic slogan, but it was also literally true: The dog that belongs collectively to the veterans and staff at Racine’s Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin complex is named Freedom. He bounded joyfully to meet us when theatre professor Martin McClendon, student and veteran Larry Gums ’19, and I were touring his home in Racine.

Welcome Home Tiny Homes3While I patted Freedom’s head and threw toys for him to fetch and chew, we listened to executive director (and veteran) Jeff Gustin describe the origins and functions of the facility.

The Tiny Home project is the latest expansion for Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin, which also manages a food bank and a resource center for veterans in the community. There are 15 tiny homes on a plot of land behind the administrative building, which houses not only the food bank but also a large communal living area with a full kitchen; bathrooms and showers; and a spacious living room with games, television, and a space for computer work.

The VOW complex in Racine impressed me in a manner that’s becoming familiar in my new Midwestern community: It has brought together the work and support of many layers of society in a complex and interconnected structure that succeeds in getting help to people who need it.

Welcome Home Tiny Homes1A plaque on the wall in the large living room credits a dozen local businesses for their support: SC Johnson sponsored the common space; and service clubs, Boy Scout troops, high school shop classes, and church groups have adopted the construction and furnishing of the tiny homes. It is an impressive and encouraging coalition of business, nonprofits, local government, and charitable institutions working together for the common good.

When we lived in Davidson, North Carolina, I participated in a Saturday morning bluegrass music jam one county north. The venue was a coffee shop founded by a veteran to be a gathering place for veterans, and over the years I enjoyed meeting many vets and learning their stories as we all appreciated the music together. After we left North Carolina in 2012, the group moved into a larger venue and created a military history museum with a coffee bar in back. I know it serves today not just as a social gathering place but also a network for assistance for those in need.

I admire the effort and the achievement that the evolution of Richard’s Coffee House represents in Mooresville, North Carolina, but I also want to connect that network with the VOW project in Racine, so that they can see this example of wraparound services for veterans, plugged into all the official support systems the community has to offer: mental health counseling, job training, addiction treatment, housing assistance, education. It was extraordinary to see what the tiny home residents were gaining from the program and planning for their futures.

Freedom did indeed live there, and not just in the body of a friendly, energetic dog.

Welcome Home Tiny Homes2Martin, Larry, and I talked during our drive to and from Racine about the Vet Night of the Arts program that Carthage has hosted in recent years, and the original dramatic production of “Afghanistan, Wisconsin” that our theatre students staged based on real stories collected from local veterans.

Student actors read selected scenes from that production on Memorial Day Weekend, punctuating the musical offerings of a massive joint choir performance led by Carthage alumnus Robert Stevens, director of the Kenosha Chamber Choir.

I see that Carthage has more than one role to play in supporting veterans. We could be a partner in the community coalition providing temporary homes and services to the homeless vets, and we could also serve veterans like Larry by offering access to a liberal arts education through which he has found important ways of processing his own combat experiences and expressing the resulting insights artistically in ways that benefit us all.

It is not only the call to charitable service that is at work here. It is certainly a charitable helping hand to people in need, but it is also a gesture of recognition and gratitude toward men and women who have served our nation in ways that most college students in the 21st century do not.

And perhaps most importantly, it is an affirmation and a desire for future affirmation of what the liberal arts can offer veterans as they return to civilian life and work to make sense of the world.

In liberal arts colleges like Carthage, we also say, “Freedom lives here!”

Welcome Home Tiny Homes4

See for yourself

Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin
1624 Yout St.
Racine, Wisconsin
Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin website

Be a tour guide

Your turn! Want to show Cameron Swallow your favorite part of Kenosha? Be a tour guide.