Army veteran Scott Owens and his daughter at the Abilities Guild's Veterans Mall
Clearwater, Florida -- Recently, President Obama announced that all U.S. troops - tens of thousands of them - will be out of Iraq by the end of the year. Many of those troops could end their service soon after.
The transition back into civilian life can be difficult, especially for disabled veterans. The Abilities Foundation and its parent company ServiceSource are working to make the return easier.
ServiceSource/Abilities just held a grand opening for its Veterans Mall, a one-stop shop filled with basic household items for disabled veterans and their families.
The mall is filled with dishes, pans, linens, televisions, even toys for children. Disabled veterans can make an appointment to visit the mall and take whatever they need to furnish their homes.
"How would you like to wake up in the morning, and the first thing you want is a cup of coffee?" said Abilities Guild volunteer Virginia Meyer. "You don't even have a coffee pot, you don't have a mug to drink it out of or a bowl to eat your cereal."
Meyer came up with the idea for the Veterans Mall and makes sure it's filled with all the essentials through donations or store bargains.
In addition to household items, the mall collects clothing. On one recent visit, a new Calvin Klein suit was on a rack. It still had the tags on it.
"We had one of the veterans come in and he was looking for a job," said Meyer. "He said he wanted to just try on some clothes. He was able to so he could go on an interview because he didn't have proper clothes to wear."
It's only free clothing that helps with job placement. ServiceSource has a Veterans Employment Program in which disabled veterans can get job placement counseling and help with their resumes and interviewing skills.
The program worked for Scott Owens. He is transitioning out of the Army after two deployments in Iraq. During one, he was injured in an IED attack that left him with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Owens says ServiceSource and Abilities helped him gain confidence and helped him get a new job.
"The warmness, the heartfeltness, is something that I was, like, 'Wow, these people actually care,'" said Owens. "They wholeheartedly care. That kind of made me feel better for myself."
The Abilities Foundation was recently awarded a $25,000 grant from Home Depot to modify the homes of eight disabled veterans in the Tampa Bay area. They are now actively seeking candidates for the modifications.
The folks at ServiceSouce and Abilities say all of these programs are the very least that they can do for our veterans.
"Every time somebody comes through here, they say, 'Oh, thank you, thank you,'" said Muriel Boysen of ServiceSource. "I say, 'Don't thank me. I thank you! Because you're the one who's made the world safe!'"
ServiceSource, Abilities and the Veterans Mall are located at 2735 Whitney Road in Clearwater. The phone number is (727)538-7370.