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Oakwood veterans transition home still in early stages
Director: Progress being made, but ‘we still need people to step up’
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Phillip Sperry, IT and social media director at Bridging the Gap, inspects the former home of Frank Turk, a Korean War veteran, in Oakwood, on Oct. 19, 2017. Bridging the Gap plans to convert the house into a transitional home for veterans in need of housing. - photo by David Barnes

Keith Laseter said he “had nothing but a vision and a prayer” when he began the journey six months ago at an Oakwood City Council meeting.

Succeeding to get inspection and permitting fees waived was only the first step in the Oakwood man’s plans to develop the Turk Center, a transitional home for veterans needing help.

Progress has been made since, but “we still need people to step on up,” Laseter said during a visit last week to the house at 3916 Hilldale Circle, off McEver Road.

Bridging the Gap Foundation fundraiser

When: 8 a.m. to noon Saturday

Where: 3916 Hilldale Circle, Oakwood

More info: Jody Sanders, 678-596-6722

“I don’t want to sound like I’m not grateful, but we still need more to get us over the threshold.”

Bridging the Gap Foundation, which Laseter heads, is holding a garage sale at the property Saturday to help raise money for labor to replace the roof. The goal is $4,000.

The Turk Center is housed in a 1950s brick home that once belonged to Korean War veteran and Oakwood businessman Frank Turk.

Frank Turk 2017.jpg
Frank Turk

The house’s upstairs is being gutted to make room for three bedrooms, kitchen and a gathering/dining area for the veterans. Laseter also wants to transform a screened-in back porch into office and veteran space.

Two bedrooms and storage space is planned in the basement, and a garden where veterans can grow their own vegetables — as well as sell them — may occupy space in the backyard.

Asked if he had a design or blueprint for the project, Laseter, an Army veteran himself, pointed to his head and said, “Up here.”

“That’s where we need a contractor to move forward in the right way,” said Jody Sanders, a nearby Realtor who is helping with the garage sale and other efforts.

Laseter said he also would like to area home improvement companies help in the effort.

The project “is starting to come together, but we need people with skills, people with knowledge, people for labor and money,” added Terri Sperry, a Realtor who works with Sanders and another volunteer.

Bridging the Gap is getting some help from high school students and has received a $7,500 grant from Jackson Electric Membership Corp. to help with renovation costs. The city’s fee waiver also was appreciated.

“It’s a very worthwhile purpose,” City Manager Stan Brown has said about the veterans center. “I think it’s good that our community is recognized as a place that welcomes veterans and tries to assist them as they move forward in their life.”

Counseling services will be offered to the veterans, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions. Laseter also hopes, as part of suicide prevention efforts, to start a program enabling veterans to train service dogs for other veterans in need.

“When we served, we had a mission,” Laseter said of veterans in general. “When we got home, we didn’t have a mission. If you give a veteran a mission, he’s less likely to commit suicide.”

He’s also considered an entrepreneurial program helping veterans start their own trucking business.

“We’ve had several success stories,” Laseter said, speaking of his organization, which operates another house in Atlanta. “We’ve served 100 people through the program since we started.”

Sanders, who heard about the program through a letter that Laseter had sent out seeking support, said she was drawn to the Turk Center’s efforts to help veterans.

“I’ve read enough to know that we haven’t treated our veterans right over many, many years,” she said. “I think it’s such a disservice and so wrong of us as Americans to do that.

“(Laseter) has this fantastic vision. I think that’s something we can contribute to in some manner.”

“And without all the red tape that the government adds to everything,” added Sperry, whose husband Phillip is helping with social media. “The (government) just can’t provide what the veterans need, and we can.”

Laseter is hopeful that when the center opens — no date has been set — it will fill a great need.

“I think that we, as a community here in Hall County, have a chance to create a model to be used throughout the United States,” he said.

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