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Lexington-based veteran's retreat provides invaluable service to those who served their country

Christ Central Ministries’ Central Midlands Transitional Retreat Center houses and helps homeless veterans, gets them back on their feet

Lexington, SC (James Bowers) - In 2010, retired U.S. Navy member and Vietnam veteran James “J.W.” Wardlaw was living in Georgia and found himself injured and without any health insurance. This desperate situation led Wardlaw to seek assistance from the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Columbia, SC. It was then that Wardlaw found out about benefits that he had always been entitled to, but he never was made aware of. After arriving in the Midlands,Wardlaw was told about the Central Midlands Transitional retreat. The faith based organization Christ Central Ministries operates on Duffie Drive in Lexington, in a building formerly occupied by the Babcock Center. It was there that Wardlaw was housed as he recovered from his injury and sought his benefits.

After Wardlaw “got back on his feet” and left the center, he continued to volunteer at the retreat for the next five years as a token of gratitude for its service to him. Wardlaw was recognized for his contributions when he was offered a permanent position at the center as outreach manager. For Wardlaw, the opportunity to help people who are in a position he himself was in is a great honor.

The center is classified by the VA as a “grant and per diem” organization. These are outlets specifically created to provide services to homeless veterans. Veterans must be vetted by the VA as having served in the armed forces before they are eligible to receive these services.

The facility hosts veterans that represent all branches of the armed forces and every conflict from the Korean War of the early 1950's to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ongoing conflicts that have been drawing from America’s military services since 2002. Veterans can be housed at the facility from 90 days to two years, though Wardlaw says the typical period is about six months. After this time and care, the veteran typically would have found a job and would be able to live elsewhere on his own, such as an apartment complex or other suitable housing.

The center provides several crucial services to veterans. The center offers daily meals and a safe, stable place for its residents to stay. Residents live in dorms that are overseen by dorm managers. These are individuals who have, like Wardlaw, come to the center as residents, but have now been placed on staff by the facility. They do everything from food preparation to mentoring guys who live in their dorm. Wardlaw says that weight gain is a common occurrence at the center, a testament to the quality of the country cooking prepared there.

One of the managers is Bruce Credle, a retired Army regular who came to the center after struggling with drug abuse and alcoholism. Credle’s leadership ability and caring demeanor scored him a dorm manager role, and he enjoys helping the people who were once in his shoes.“It’s good for me to give back what has been given to me,”Credle said. “I like being around people like myself, being able to share laughs and camaraderie, and help guys when they get down. I wouldn’t trade this position for the world,” he concluded.

Clothing is also provided as a benefit to those staying at the facility. Two VA case workers are based at the facility to handle the needs of residents. Veterans are also granted access to healthcare. The predominant goal of residents is to attain employment. The center works with unemployment agencies such as SC Works and Fast Jobs. The VA’s compensated work therapy program aids veterans coming off extended period of unemployment. They are educated in life skills such as doing their own laundry and even money management. Residents are also taught computer skills, something everyone needs to be able to survive and work in today’s society. Veterans assist in the facility’s activities such as cooking and upkeep of the property.

Often, once a veteran finds employment, he remains in the shelter until he has the funds saved to move into an apartment. Veterans also may seek education through institutions of higher learning such as Midlands Technical College and the University of South Carolina. Veterans are also encouraged to volunteer in the community. Many residents are skilled in trades such as painting and landscaping and may lend these talents to the community as a way of fulfillment and giving back.

One of the center’s rules for their residents is that they have to leave their dorm room after 8 a.m. each morning. The center feels that if veterans remain in bed all day, it’s not beneficial for their recovery or their physical or mental well-being. Counseling is made available to veterans suffering with PTSD and other mental health issues. “The vast majority of us have PTSD to a certain degree,”Wardlaw said. Wardlaw adds that the best way to deal with the condition is to try to help the veteran stay calm through a method of “kindness, love, forgiveness, compassion." He says it helps that nearly everyone present at the center is a veteran, making it easy for a PTSD sufferer to open up and talk about his fears. “We’ve been there, done that, so we know how to talk to the (residents) and calm them down.”

Veterans are some of the country’s most vulnerable people. Rates of homelessness and suicide among veterans are extremely high compared to those among non-veterans. This is why the mission of the center is such a remarkable one. “Often people take what we do as armed forces members for granted,” Credle said. “Sometimes the veterans need a little backup too.” Credle’s comeback story is not unique among center residents; many of them go on to gainful employment with businesses in the area and beyond.

The retreat’s statistics for success are astounding. If you measure it in numbers, it is really the premier facility in the southeast in terms of veterans that it has successfully helped. Its holistic based approach, a program that goes to the core of the problem and repairs that “foundation” of the person, is a large part of that success. All of Christ Central’s programs look at things this way. They strongly believe that it’s not enough to get a man a job, instead you have to repair the whole person, curing any underlying problems with his body and mind, so that the person will be able to keep the job, and eventually take back control of his life and destiny. For this reason, Christ Central, the core organization that manages the retreat, has been asked to work with hundreds of programs that serve the hurting.

Due in part to the support of the VA and community philanthropists, the center does not have major fundraising drives. In the words of Wardlaw, the overall philosophy of the organization is that, “God will provide everything we need.” Though the center is rooted in the teachings of the Christian faith, it welcomes veterans of all religions, including atheists and agnostics.

Though monetary donations are not actively sought, the shelter is always seeking donations such as clothing. Credle says that there is a particular need most of the time for pants with waist sizes from 30-36 and lengths of 32-34. Average sized shoes, and large to triple extra-large shirts and jackets are also needs the facility usually has. Wardlaw says that when veterans leave the center for apartments, furniture is often out of their price range so donations of items such as couches, beds, and chairs are also welcomed.

For more information on the Central Midlands Transitional Retreat, visit christcentralminstries.org, or call (803) 359-5018. Central Midlands Transitional Retreat is located at 201 Duffie Drive in Lexington.

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