Easterseals plans to build $1.8 million veterans center in Norwich

Norwich — Easterseals Capital Region & Eastern Connecticut has plans to build a $1.8 million veterans center within its existing Norwich facility, which officials say will be the first of its kind in the state.

The nonprofit organization, which is known for its work with people with varying disabilities, is expanding into veteran services. Allen Gouse, president and CEO, said that after talking to various stakeholders and veterans group it became clear there were "significant" needs of veterans going unmet. Easterseals, with the services and programs it already offers, was poised to meet that need, Gouse said.

The proposed center will be a focal point for veterans and their families to gather and access services. Plans envision an 18,000-square-foot space where veterans can relax and interact with one another in a safe space, but also have access to services such as mental health and job counseling. The center will reflect a "holistic approach" to care, said Beth Pritchard, executive vice president, chief marketing and philanthropy officer with Easterseals Capital Region & Eastern Connecticut.

State Veterans' Affairs Commissioner Sean Connolly called it an "important addition to the veteran community."

"It will be a model for the rest of the state and for the whole country," said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who added that the project is "so exciting and promising because it will help veterans with multiple needs at a single source."

Construction on the center will begin once all funds are raised. So far, Stanley Black & Decker has committed $1 million toward the project. Easterseals is still looking for additional investors, and plans to host fundraising events to raise the remaining money.

The organization is also developing programs for veterans and their families. At the beginning of this year, it began offering vocational services, providing job coaching to veterans to help them reintegrate into civilian life and find work. It also started up a program geared toward female veterans and their families, helping them to secure employment and provided support with accessing services for sexual trauma, domestic violence, and substance abuse, among other challenges.

Easterseals has established collaborative partnerships with the Connecticut Department of Labor, Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs and others.

Of Easterseals' new focus, Jason Sechrist, with the labor department's Office for Veteran's Workforce Development, said veterans must navigate a host of issues and information when they get out of the military so "it's great to have as many sources as possible.

j.bergman@theday.com

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