Fifth anniversary of veterans home same as first – fulfilling a vision

It’s mid-morning at the Col. Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home, and a flurry of activity surrounds all who walk down the grand corridor leading to the “town center.” That’s what it’s called – town center. After all, this is a community, just as it was intended five years ago when it opened its doors for the first time.

Men and women sit side by side playing Bingo. A couple of men gather in the sports lounge to swap a story or two. Others sit in front of the fireplace as if they are in their own living room, reading a newspaper. Nearby in the barber shop, a haircut is being delivered. And across the way, residents are getting an early start on lunch in the café.

It’s not much different than most communities, only this one is only for veterans. It’s the state-of-the-art, model for the country veterans home that started as a vision and evolved into a reality most states could only dream of.

When it opened Nov. 1, 2011, unparalleled fanfare followed. And rightly so. This Pell City-based facility has few rivals across the country. “We still see ourselves as a model for the rest of the country,” said Director Hiliary Hardwick.

“We have had multiple states in to tour our home. Federal planners have featured our home for future veterans homes to be built,” she said. “We are still considered that state-of-the-art facility for the whole country, not just the state, but the whole country.”

HMR of Alabama partners with the Alabama Department of Veteran Affairs to operate the facility, and the partnership has been a good one. “We are honored and delighted for the opportunity to serve the veterans and their families at Col. Robert L Howard State Veterans Home,” HMR Director Derrick Williams said. “Over the past five years it’s been an incredible journey to see a plot of land transform into a fully functioning facility. Most noteworthy is the sustained support from the community. Today our veterans receive superior services in a world class facility.  We look forward for the continued opportunity to serve the veterans in this community. 

When Rear Admiral Clyde Marsh, serving as State Commissioner and Director of the Alabama Department of Veteran Affairs, saw the planning and construction, he knew he wanted it to be a place worthy of the veterans who gave so much in service to their country.

Today, “when you walk through those doors, you appreciate where you are,” Hardwick said. “We wanted to create a true, homelike environment.” Take a look around, and that’s exactly what you see. “It is warm and inviting, not just for the veterans but for their friends and families.”

Each veteran in the 254-capacity facility has their own private room. Throughout, there are plenty of areas to socialize, and they are as comfortable and inviting as a favorite chair at home. “It is a place you come to live, engage, socialize. It has a good atmosphere and a good quality of life,” she said. “We know it’s home, so we want to provide as much as homelike and routine as we can.

“First impression is really a good one when you walk through those doors,” Hardwick said. Some might call it the Wow! factor. These veterans simply call it what it is — home.

And five years later, that’s still the case.

Story by Carol Pappas
Photos by Graham Hadley

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