The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith Student Veterans Organization put action behind their mission to support local veterans this weekend, spending their Saturday morning installing a 12-by-16-foot greenhouse at the Buddy Smith Home in Fort Smith.
Yoderbilt Greenhouses in Mansfield donated the structure after the SVO reached out to owner Travis Yoder earlier this summer.
Nearly ten percent of citizens facing homelessness are military veterans, a statistic that was incredibly troubling to members of the SVO, many of whom served in the military themselves.
“We want to help these veterans become active in their own lives and reap the ‘fruits’ of their labors,” said SVO president Richard Schafer, who served 6½ years active duty in the U.S. Army, with a smile.
“When he told me the cause was our homeless veterans, I said ‘yeah, absolutely,’” said Travis Yoder, owner of Yoderbilt Greenhouses. As the sun beamed in the massive structure, the chilly October air began to warm almost immediately, and Yoder showed residents and volunteers the inner workings of the windows, vents, and braces.
The Buddy Smith opened in May 2012, serving as a dedicated facility to assisting homeless male veterans. The 16-bedroom, 5,053-square foot home provides lifestyle programming and supportive living to help veterans get on their feet, as well as coordinated case management through the Veteran’s Administration.
“One of the veterans named Cowboy walked me around and showed me the garden they’re already growing,” Heather Redding, president of the Salute Veterans National Honor Society at UAFS, explained. “They’re growing watermelon and okra and tomatoes, and he was just so excited to have more space and the ability to work through the winter.” Redding is a Business Administration major who served active duty for 12 years with the U.S. Navy.
In addition to enabling the veterans to grow full-sized vegetables and herbs through the winter, the greenhouse will also allow the veterans to start growing seedlings earlier in the season, which they can transfer to the more extensive outdoor garden when spring weather allows.
“I have to imagine that if you’re homeless, you can feel like you don’t have value, or you don’t have something you can contribute,” Redding said, “so, I think being able to grow your own food, sustain yourself, and work with your hands, it adds that value. It shows you that you can contribute, and you are a part of something bigger than yourself.”
“I think we should all give back,” Yoder added with a smile. “I feel like I’ve been blessed, and if I can help be a blessing to other people, I want to do that.”
The UAFS Student Veterans Organization was established in 2014 with the mission of establishing and maintaining a network of student veterans, dependents, and supporters of veterans attending class at UAFS, and forming partnerships with veteran-friendly agencies in the community.
The SVO provides veterans and current service members with the resources, assistance, direction, and support necessary for the successful transition from military to student life. The organization strives to emphasize personal, professional, and academic success for all student veterans.