The Manna House needs more donations to continue expansion

Sue Guinn Legg • Jan 14, 2012 at 10:36 PM

A 1,000-square-foot, $70,000 expansion of The Manna House shelter for veterans and others working their way back from chronic homelessness is nearing completion, but work is at a stopping point and the house is in need of several finishing touches to put the new space to use.

By Monday, the men at The Manna House and the volunteer builders who are helping them will have finished the dry wall on a new eat-in kitchen with seating space for up to 24 residents, a walk-in pantry, two small bedrooms, a handicap-accessible bath, a small directors’ office and a spacious covered porch that will be enclosed when donations allow.

Still needed in the new Reitzer Enclave, named in honor of the late Al Reitzer, and his wife Lynn, who is the expansion’s lead backer, are paint, flooring, cabinetry and appliances.

“We’re coming to a stopping point,” Program Director Valerie Brown said. “The dry wall will be done by Monday and we have no flooring scheduled at all.”

Lynn Reitzer, Congressman Phil Roe, city commissioners and a large crowd of Manna House supporters ceremoniously broke ground on the expansion in April. Demolition of the large back porch that was the favorite gathering place for the men’s daily group sessions commenced immediately. By the end of spring, utility lines had been moved and a full basement dug for the new addition. Construction began in earnest in June. And as soon as the weather allows, daily group meetings will resume on the new back deck.

Funded entirely through donations and in-kind gifts of materials and labor, the addition has been nearly a year in the making and Brown said “the guys” are excited to see it wrapping up.

“This is their home and they love it here,” Brown said. About 80 percent of them are veterans, most are age 65 or older and most have experienced chronic homelessness more than once.

“They work hard because just putting a roof over their heads doesn’t mean they’re not homeless. It takes a lot,” Brown said. “For a lot of the guys, this is the longest they’ve ever been in a place.”

The grant-funded transitional housing program allows the men to stay at the house for up to two years while they work to regain their self-sufficiency. At that point, Brown said, the younger men move on to other housing while the older residents have the option of staying on as resident mentors for the new arrivals and those transitioning out.

But Manna House residents most admired for their work in recent months have been the builders, including Tony Campbell, a heat and air man who has gone with a hammer in his hand since the construction began in June, and John Green, who came to the house with 16 years of carpentry experience.

Non-resident builders in on the project have included D&J Roofing, Mozen Architectural, several members of the Johnson City Home Builders Association and the local Rolling Thunder chapter, and a number of community volunteers who have come to work on the house independently.

Major financial contributions have come from the Reitzer Group International, Grace Fellowship Church, Good Samaritan Ministries and the local Rolling Thunder chapter and the fundraisers the chapter has conducted for the expansion.

At age 68, Brad, an Air Force veteran of the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam, is the oldest of The Manna House resident mentors and may have the clearest insight into the support for its expansion. “There’s a lot of respect for the military in this house,” he said.

Currently, the house has space for 22 men and the expansion will bring its capacity to 24, or three more than its grant funding covers.

“Right now, there is such a need,” Brown said, “We’re just trying to help as many as we can get inside.”

For others who would like to help, more information about The Manna House expansion may be obtained by calling Bob Garrett at Fairview Housing at 612-2995 or online at www.themannahouse.org.

Or, donations earmarked for the “Manna House Expansion” may be made by mail to Fairview Housing, 119 E. King St., Johnson City, TN 37601-4721.

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