It is always heartwarming and often just amazing to see how members of a community step up to help our veterans.
For years Project Help has been working towards converting an old school bus into a mobile closet to serve veterans and their families. The vision was to have a bus that could be stationed at various sites including job fairs, packed with clothing and accessories and manned by volunteers who would assist veteran job seekers with resume preparation, provide haircuts and teach makeup application.
The dream of a mobile closet began its journey towards reality when Sandy Mitchell, Executive Director of Project Help, met the first of many community heroes.
Mike Miller, owner of George’s Salvage, is a longtime family friend of Mitchell’s. When the two reconnected at an event in Byram, she shared her vision for aiding veterans in need of clothing and employment. Miller got the wheels rolling by donating an old school bus to Project Help. “That was the lynchpin of our project”, said Mitchell.
The excitement stalled for a time waiting for an uncertain next step. Then another community hero stepped up to build the interior. Karl Broton, of Broton Contracting donated the effort and materials. He built in custom drawers and cabinets, a wood floor, metal hang rods and other niceties.
The effort stagnated again faced with the biggest hurdle yet - the exterior. The bus is 11 feet tall and paint booths are 10 feet tall. Even if the tires were flattened, it still wouldn’t fit...so it sat and sat until one day, when Mitchell attended a hiring event at a Joint Base - McGuire, Dix, Lakehurst.
Mitchell explained the problem to Bernie Cooke of the Painters and Allied Trade Union. Cooke, stepped up community hero-style with a great solution to the problem. “Don’t paint the bus, wrap it,” he said.
His plan worked wonderfully but the old bus, which had been sitting for two years, had even more issues. “The brakes were bad until another community hero, Mike Merle of All County Transmission in Sussex, made magic happen for us”, said Mitchell. “All new brakes were done and at no cost.”
Then there was the rust problem...hidden rust was discovered by another community hero, Dave Castner of S.M.A.R.T., the sheet metal workers union. After contacting Project Help about volunteering to assist in aiding veterans, he offered his manpower and apprentices to make repairs and to build an exit off the back of the bus. The repairs included rebuilding the front stairs and a variety of other things that needed to be done.
Now it’s time for Project Help to recognize the generous efforts of these community heroes. On Sept. 10, a ceremony will be held at Sussex County Community college in Newton and plaques will be presented to all of the heroes.
The event will commence with networking at 5:30 pm, then there will be a short patriotic ceremony including a color guard, orchestrated by Gunnery Sergeant Jeremy Curcio USMC, and boy scouts, followed by the pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the National Anthem by professional opera singer, Frank Basile. After a short presentation by Project Help, NJ State Senator Steven Oroho will say a few words and the bus will make its official debut in Sussex County, escorted by the American Legion Riders.
Refreshments will be provided thanks to Applebees of Newton.
All are welcome to attend but registration is required to provide a good count for the food.
Register here at https://bigbusrevealtickets.eventbrite.com.