Jim Lorraine was in “Special Ops” in the military. But since retiring and coming to Augusta, he’s been on as intense a search and rescue operation as he’s ever seen.
The executive director of the Augusta Warrior Project and his tiny staff have been scouring the area for homeless veterans and those who may be lost – lost in a government labyrinth or a maze of community programs. The wounded, or the aged, who need health care. Those looking to finish school. Those looking to support their family. Those looking just to make it through another day.
Odd as it seems, the help they need wasn’t nearly evident or easy enough – until the Augusta Warrior Project came along. And many were simply going without.
The nonprofit Augusta Warrior Project helps new and long-time veterans figure out what they need and find it. Lorraine and his colleagues know where to go and what red tape to cut. And they can bring together every conceivable type of government and private-sector program to help these men and women – many of whom have been injured, some more than once.
“I wasn’t transitioning well,” Adam Pennington, wounded twice, says in a moving video montage of testimonials for the warrior project. “I have no doubt in my mind that if it weren’t for the Augusta Warrior Project, I would be homeless right now.”
Another vet severely wounded in Afghanistan will be moving into a home in June, after AWP helped find him a $62,000 home adaptation grant. Fellow veterans from the Vietnam era helped too.
That’s the kind of networking the project is creating.
It’s not like there aren’t agencies and programs to help veterans – often there are a dizzying amount. It’s just that no one was putting it all together in one understandable package for area veterans of all eras – nor was anyone beating the bushes to find them.
That’s what the Augusta Warrior Project does. And it’s the only entity of its kind in the country – well, except for those knock-off programs that Augusta has inspired around the country in AWP’s image.
“We are the national model,” Lorraine says.
The second he heard about AWP, Augusta ad man Blane Bailey was sure he wanted to help market it and familiarize Augustans with it.
“We’ve asked these guys to fight for our country, and they have,” Bailey says. “They shouldn’t have to fight for their rights when they get home. It’s not right. It’s just not right.”
The project started several
years ago as the brainchild of then-television anchor Laurie Ott, who was moved to do it after meeting a wounded soldier. Since then, the project’s mission has expanded to include advocacy of all kinds for veterans, wounded or not.
Last year AWP focused on getting the veteran homeless off the streets – some 150 of them. “We virtually eliminated veteran homelessness for Columbia and Richmond counties,” Lorraine says.
The project has also helped 115 get jobs, 220 enroll or stay in school and more than 1,800 with other issues.
It is, essentially, a one-stop-shopping resource for this community’s veterans.
This year the project is focused on veterans in schools, too. Next year, businesses will be searched for employed veterans who nonetheless could access education and other benefits.
The Augusta Warrior Project hopes to double the number of veterans it helps. But honestly, a more immediate concern is survival: The mission has outpaced the funds available, and despite a comparatively shoestring operating budget of $360,000 – and some loyal donors – the 501(c)(3) has a year or less of capital. A daylong telethon last week on two area channels, 6 and 26, netted about $32,000. But more is needed.
This is not a luxury, and it’s not something someone else will do if we don’t. And what a tragedy if the national model for community-based veterans help were to wither on the vine right in front of us.
Folks also need to understand that Augusta Warrior Project has nothing to do with the national Wounded Warriors Project. In fact, the latter actually contributes to Augusta Warrior Project.
Lorraine is looking for 1,500 people to pledge just $20 a month to keep the Augusta Warrior Project helping veterans. This has become a mission for Lorraine. It should be ours too.
“Ops” don’t get any more special.
(The Augusta Warrior Project can be contacted at AugustaWarriorProject.org or (706) 951-7506.)