PHILADELPHIA, Penn. -- Army veteran Brian Roberts said his hardest fought battle didn't come until he was back home after serving.
“I was homeless for a little bit,” he said. “I slept in my car. It was hard.”
Roberts had trouble finding a job when he returned home, leaving him unable to pay his bills. “It was hard to transition,” he said. “People in the military have pride, and sometimes that pride builds like an obstacle. Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help.”
But now Roberts is finding help from 14-year-old Cole McCafferty.
Two years ago, while McCafferty was walking home from school, he saw a man holding a sign that said he was a homeless veteran. “It was unfathomable to me,” McCafferty said. “I could not imagine how this man who had signed up to possibly die to protect my freedom could be homeless. It was part of that which compelled me to set up Cole’s Challenge.”
Cole’s Challenge has two parts: The first is to challenge everyone to perform a random act of kindness; the second is to raise $50,000 dollars for the Veterans Multi-Service Center.
Debby Derricks is the director of development for the VMC. She said the money they raise will go toward a new kitchen at the newly built Edison 64 veteran’s community. “The VMC serves more than 6,000 veterans every single year with comprehensive services," Derricks said. "It’s everything from benefits and entitlements analysis to housing to job training and job placement.”
Edison 64 is a former high school that endured the highest number of casualties during the Vietnam War. “We have 66 units of permanent housing. We’ll have comprehensive services on site including a warming kitchen, thanks to Cole’s Challenge,” she said.
More important to McCafferty, there will also be a sense of community at the facility. “I just thought if you got all these guys together, you had them interacting, you had them eating together, you give them a sense of community," he said.
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, there were more than 23,000 veterans unsheltered or living on the street in January 2018. That number has been declining thanks to people like McCafferty and facilities like the VMC. It’s helped Roberts find a home, secure a job and get back on his feet. He’s now paying it forward by helping to renovate Edison 64.
Roberts said he hopes Cole’s Challenge will encourage people to serve the ones who are willing to risk it all for freedom.