Jon Locke can relate to the stories he has heard from veterans who struggle with the transition to civilian life.
“When I got out, I had a lot of rage and anger issues associated with post-traumatic stress disorder,” the Carlisle native said. “I went to the VA looking for help, but they just kept telling me that I was stressed.”
It took some time for Locke to find what he needed to cope with the memory of one deployment to Afghanistan and three deployments to Iraq in less than six years. A 1997 Carlisle High School graduate, he enlisted in the Army that summer and retired a decade later as a staff sergeant in the military police.
Now on disability, Locke volunteers full-time as the founder and chief executive officer of Operation Veterans’ Hope, a nonprofit organization he started in January 2016. Since November, the charity has operated a thrift shop on the first floor of the building at 7 N. Baltimore Ave., in Mount Holly Springs.
The shop is the residence and workplace of two homeless veterans who put in up to 40 hours a week and receive a regular stipend based on what is sold, minus utilities. “They learn important job skills,” Locke said. “It trains them in customer service.”
Known as Work2Stay, the program includes not only the shop but also a bunk room for the veterans to sleep, a day room for them to relax and cook and a fully equipped bathroom and shower. There is even a stationary bike for them to use to exercise.
The shop is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with merchandise that includes clothing, jewelry, books, toys, puzzles and knick-knacks. The items are donated and can be purchased with cash donations based on what the customer wants to give.
“We do go through to determine a value that is reasonable,” Locke said. “We inform them on what we are about when they come in. I want people to feel like they are contributing.
“The community is great,” said Locke, a Mount Holly Springs resident. “One of the churches gives us food every month, which is enough for the veterans we have. Plus a lot of the customers bring in meals and homemade bread.”
The program has enough space for two more homeless veterans, though one of those slots could be occupied shortly. The goal is to not only provide job skills to veterans but also the opportunity for them to screen through the donated goods for necessities.
The number of hours they put in at the shop depends on their employment status. If the veteran is unemployed, they can put in 40 hours over a five-day week. If they obtain a part-time job, their store hours would be adjusted down with further changes being made if they obtain a full-time job.
One goal of Operation Veterans’ Hope is to raise enough money to purchase the building so that the store could be expanded to the entire first floor and the second floor could be converted into housing for homeless veterans, Locke said. The current owner is allowing the charity to use the first floor rent free.
Another goal is to find donors willing to cover utilities so that all the proceeds from sales could be channeled to the homeless veterans enrolled in the program, Locke said.
“We eventually want to be able to help veterans who are on the verge of becoming homeless. If they need things like furniture, they can come in and talk to us and we can go over their financials.”
To qualify for help, each veteran must provide a copy of their discharge papers to verify their service in the military.
Fundraisers include an online auction planned for March 30 and a Dinner for a Cause the first and third Thursdays at the J&K Hi Hat Café in Mount Holly Springs, Locke said.
The original mission of Operation Veterans’ Hope was to help veterans coping with substance abuse issues. That mission changed in August 2017 when Locke learned of the plight of homeless veterans while trying to help a man find a stable residence. The man was a veteran who wanted more than a daily shelter but could not pursue affordable housing options.
For more information, visit www.operationveteranshope.org.