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Flint’s Sacred Heart Village: A haven for veterans, backed by Mott Foundation’s $500K Grant

Flint, Michigan — The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation gave Catholic Charities of Shiawassee and Genesee Counties $500,000 to build a small home village for veterans in Flint. This place, called Sacred Heart Village, will be on East Moore Street and have 24 to 26 tiny houses, each between 280 and 500 square feet. T

They’re making sure all the homes are accessible for people with disabilities, with eight completely barrier-free. There’s also going to be a center where veterans can get health care, education, and support, making them feel like they belong to a community.

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“It’s a transitional, integrated, trauma-informed approach for veterans to establish stability and learn the skills necessary to live independently and integrate into society,” said Katie Baxter, president and CEO of Catholic Charities. “We want them to be successful, independent and achieve their life goals.”

The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation gave Catholic Charities of Shiawassee and Genesee Counties $500,000 to build a small home village for veterans

Sacred Heart Village is part of a bigger effort by Catholic Charities to help veterans in many ways, focusing on what each person needs and helping them no matter their military discharge status.

“When we started working with different veteran organizations, we realized there is a huge gap in services. This gap is caused because, if you do not meet the qualifications per the government agency, then you do not get benefits. So, someone can serve for years, but if their discharge status is not what is considered ‘honorable,’ then they don’t have those benefits,” said Gerri Lajewski, director of development of Catholic Charities. “By keeping things privately funded, that allows us to do what Catholic Charities has been doing for over 81 years, and that’s filling in the gaps. It allows us to be flexible.”

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Since coming back to Flint in 2009 after his time in the U.S. Marine Corps, Daniel Vela, a Lance Corporal, has been actively helping local veterans. He was thrilled to help plan Sacred Heart Village in 2023, a project aimed at aiding veterans.

“This is the type of community where we’re always helping out veterans. And I’m thankful Catholic Charities is getting veterans’ perspectives on this to make sure they don’t fall into stereotypical views of veterans. Every veteran is different, and we can’t lose sight of the person,” said Vela, a Purple Heart recipient who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I felt heard, and they asked a lot of good questions.”

The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation gave Catholic Charities of Shiawassee and Genesee Counties $500,000 to build a small home village for veterans

Growing up in Flint, Vela found the transition to civilian life challenging, even with plenty of support. He believes the Sacred Heart Village project is a great way to assist veterans in starting anew and avoiding homelessness.

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“Let’s introduce them to everyone they need to meet to get started on the right foot and prevent them from ending up on the streets in the first place,” Vela said. “This new village just made sense. We already have an army of people here ready to help. As a veteran, as a person from Flint, it makes me feel good to see this village for veterans created. I really think we can do this right.”

Ridgway White, the leader of the Mott Foundation in Flint, is excited about the Sacred Heart Village project. He believes it’s a meaningful way to appreciate the sacrifices of veterans and will benefit the whole community.

“This is a great way to honor veterans who’ve served our country, and it will contribute not only to their well-being and success, but to that of the community as a whole,” White said. “Catholic Charities is taking an innovative approach to supporting veterans, and the Mott Foundation is happy to play a role in making it happen.”

Sacred Heart Village is set to begin construction this summer, with hopes to finish the first part by January 2025. The homes will be designed thoughtfully with safety and comfort in mind, featuring open views, separate walls, and specially designed bathroom doors.

The plan includes grouping veterans into small teams when they move in, aiming to build a strong, supportive community. The goal is for the village to be more than just homes; it’s meant to be a place where veterans can find support and grow together, according to Baxter.

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“With Sacred Heart Village, we’re not just providing housing. We’re creating a model for community support and engagement that can be replicated nationwide,” she said. “This grant enables us to take a significant step towards reducing veteran homelessness in our community and establishing a sustainable model for future programming.”