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Soldier On Holds Groundbreaking Ceremony on Town Common

Buckley: ‘We help one veteran at a time’

“The VA reports that there are 33,000 homeless veterans across America; right here in Massachusetts, we have over 500 — and that’s 500 too many,” said Bruce Buckley, president and CEO of Soldier On, at a ceremony held today on the Town Common celebrating progress toward a new facility that will provide apartments with wrap-around services for 21 homeless veterans.

Site work is ongoing at the Soldier On veteran’s housing project at 1660 Main St., adjacent to Heatherwood, with completion penciled in for mid-2024. See rendering, above.

Funding has been the sticking point, said Bruce Panilaitis, president of Tewksbury Home Build, which secured the land and is backing the project.

Watch the full ceremony here courtesy of Tewksbury TV

While construction costs are not rising as quickly as they were, said Panilaitis, they’re also not going down, and issues with the site due to its proximity to wetlands have increased the prep work needed.

Besides Buckley, speakers at the event included emcee Carlo Zaffanella, Board of Directors, Soldier On; BG(MA) (Ret.) Andrea Gayle-Bennett, PA-C, DMSC Deputy Secretary, Executive Office of Veterans’ Services; Senator Barry Finegold; Representative David Robertson; Select Board member Mark Kratman; and Steve Bohn, veterans liaison, Office of U.S. Congressman Seth Moulton.

The budget for the build is a mix of federal, state, town and Soldier On funds and private donations.

“Those who have put their lives on the line for our freedom deserve dignity, respect and a place to call home,” said Finegold. “That is why the Tewksbury delegation worked to secure $250,000 in state funding for this Soldier On project. We have to take care of our veterans, especially those who are in need of housing.”

In addition, the Select Board in August 2022, by a vote of 3-2, committed $500,000 from the town’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund; the town also provided the land via the Tewksbury Home Build. And in November, the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation and New England Patriots Foundation announced a matching grant. An event in March hosted by Wamesit Lanes raised funds.

Many generous local residents have also donated time, services and money. Buckley specifically thanked Gavin & Sullivan Architects, Groom Construction and Civil Design Consultants for their efforts, as well as Tewksbury Home Build.

Gayle-Bennett: ’21 units of affordable housing. That’s amazing. That’s amazing to me, at least.’

“This community, this Gordon H Manson veterans community, is more than just a housing project,” said Gayle-Bennett, a retired Brigadier General. “Each unit represents more than just bricks and mortar. It’s a resounding statement that we stand together as a community to ensure that those who have served are not forgotten or left behind.”

As to how to access a unit, Casey DiCicco, Soldier On’s director of communications, said applications will be available prior to opening for potential residents to fill out.

“We will eventually also run a fundraising campaign for brand-new household goods — linens, dishware, silverware, bakeware,” said DiCicco. “That way, in addition to being fully furnished, veterans will be able to move in with everything they need to live there.”

Once that campaign is up and running, the community can get involved by purchasing needed items from an Amazon wish-list or donating money. We’ll let residents know when that effort begins. Meanwhile, donations can be made directly to Soldier On or via Tewksbury Home Build.

Rep. Vanna Howard and Tobin Abraham, legislative director for Rep. Tram Nguyen, were also on hand to support Soldier On.

Lorna is a U.S. Army veteran and 25-year resident of Tewksbury who has written for organizations ranging from the DIA to InformationWeek to a free weekly in New London that sent her to interview the pastry chef at Foxwoods.

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