A Memorial Day conversation between U.S. Marine Corps veteran Michael Lisovich and retired Mt. Lebanon School District teacher Susan Watson quickly resulted in a new venture on behalf of those who served their country.
At 8 a.m. June 15, Veterans Helping Veterans will open in a newly renovated space at 210 E. Seventh Ave. in Homestead. Coffee, light breakfast, lunch and fellowship will be offered during the center’s hours, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The impetus for Veterans Helping Veterans came as Lisovich and Watson contemplated the generally accepted statistic that approximately 22 veterans per day are victims of suicide.
Conditions caused by COVID-19 probably have not helped the situation.
“People are stuck at home. What they call essential services have been shut down. Veterans are just stuck. They have no place to go,” Lisovich explained. “We want to give them a place to go, and build, hopefully, a repeatable model that is a safe harbor for veterans in need.”
With the center’s opening, safety protocols will be in place, including partitions to help with social distancing, constant cleaning during the day and professional disinfecting overnight.
“When people come in through the door, they’ll wear their masks like they’re supposed to, and we have hand sanitizer at the door, so they disinfect before they even come in,” Lisovich said.
And doughnuts will be served by someone who hands them out, instead of everyone reaching into the box.
Watson, who is serving as the venture’s managing director, referenced the circular breakfast favorites in discussing opening day.
“I have a friend who said, ‘Can I bring doughnuts for the first day? How many people do you expect?’ And I said, ‘Well, somewhere between four and 200.’ We didn’t ask anybody to RSVP. That will never be the case, because that’s a deterrent,” Watson said. “Our goal was to open the doors and sort of that premise: If you build it, they will come. We’ll just have to go from there.”
Veterans Helping Veterans is an extension of Meadows Edge, a nonprofit founded by Lisovich that has been working on developing a software application to help connect military personnel who leave the service connect expediently with available resources.
“Basically, we took that and we’re doing it in person here,” Lisovich said.
“Also, we are partnering with other veteran-friendly or veteran-centric organizations that provide specific services, like job training.”
He formerly served as executive director of Hire Our Heroes, a national organization focusing on empowering veterans “with the knowledge, skills and innovative tools necessary to secure employment.”
In Homestead, Lisovich also owns Wines of America, which is adjacent to the 4,000-square-foot space, called The Forge, that houses Veterans Helping Veterans. His businesses always have provided employment opportunities for veterans, he said.
For Watson, Veterans Day always has been special: She happened to have been born Nov. 11. As such, plus in recognition of her father’s military service, she sought to instill appreciation among her students for all that the defense of the United States represents.
When she taught in Mt. Lebanon at Washington Elementary and Mellon Middle schools – former students will recognize her as Mrs. Wilcher – assignments she gave early in the year culminated in a veterans tribute each November.
“Each of the students had to identify someone who had served,” Watson said, and that could include service for other nations. “I had a series of questions that guided them, but also reminded them that every veteran’s service and stories were different.”
The students invited their subjects to the tribute event, which also was attended by members of the community, giving them the opportunity to deepen their regard for Veterans Day.
“At the end, all of the kids would get up and form an ‘arc of honor,’ and surround the veterans,” Watson said. “And they all read their veterans’ names.”
Somewhat similarly, a Boulevard of Honors has been established inside The Forge, and veterans who visit are encouraged to bring their military photos to add to the collection.
As managing director of Veterans Helping Veterans, Watson has a variety of responsibilities, including a financial component.
“Part of my job will be to keep the doors open and raise the funds in order to do that,” she said. “We went pretty aggressive to say five days a week, instead of one day a week, and the conversation was really, if we could, we would do seven days a week.”
For more information about Veterans Helping Veterans, call Susan Watson at 412-977-6451.