VETERANS STAND DOWN: Event held to benefit homeless veterans

Oct. 13, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

A 51-year-old homeless veteran stood in the center of the National Guard Armory Saturday and read a poem about his time on the streets.

It was this man — and others like him — who the organizers of the first Veterans Stand Down event wanted to help.

With more than 25 vendors, which ranged from health clinics to veteran support groups to organizations that link jobs to veterans, the inaugural event to help Central Carolina homeless veterans find a job and a home took shape.

"We want them to know they are not forgotten," said Leon Jackson, veterans employee representative for the Lee County JobLink Career Center and organizer of the event. "Every day these people sign a blank check to defend us. And to protect us."

The all-day event began with a welcome by various political leaders and the presentation of the flags by the Lee County Junior ROTC.

N.C. Senator Ronald Rabin, a veteran himself, said there was something fundamentally wrong with the federal system because it was not living up to its promise to support veterans.

"Something is wrong when you have a system like that," he said.

Sanford Mayor Cornelia Olive, who had worked with organizers since the beginning of this event, said she hoped veterans would take advantage of the services being offered.

"We are so proud of all of the veterans and their families," she said. "I hope something truly enriching and wonderful will happen to you today. It has happened to us by serving you."

Lee County Commissioner Chairman Charlie Parks, also a veteran, said this type of event was something the Lee County community sorely needed.

"We've needed this for a long time," he said. "I am proud of you."

Michael Gray Godfrey, a veteran who said he has struggled with drug abuse and run-ins with the law, was reunited with his   daughter, Heather, at the Stand Down event after not seeing one another for 11 years.

Godfrey, who said he's looking for a job, a place to stay and is drug free, said he appreciates the event in helping him and other veterans.

"I hope my family can forgive me," he said. "I've gotten clean, and I've gotten closer to Jesus. I didn't do this, God did this."