RICHMOND (KPIX 5) — Some call this Jefferson Award winner “Wonder Woman” – not because she leaps tall buildings, but because she builds them as homes for veterans.
On a sunny afternoon in Richmond, Rhonda Harris joined a group of formerly homeless military veterans to celebrate progress.
“No more do we want veterans to have a narrow path,” she said. “We want to broaden it so we have actually options.”
Because of Harris, recovering alcoholic Jaime Garcia no longer sleeps under freeways. He’s studying to become a counselor.
“She’s very caring,” Garcia explained. “She empathized with my feelings.”
Harris herself is a member of the California reserves, and daughter of a wounded Korean War veteran. She founded the Veterans Resource Program in 2011 in honor of her late father, to give hope to people like Jaime Garcia.
“He served our country,” she said emphatically. “His desire, his will, is to be whole.”
When it came to finding a headquarters for the Veterans Resource Program, Harris turned to a house on a Richmond street corner. She described it as drug infested, but she bought it, renovated it, and had specific instructions for the contractor to make the house a home:
“I told them this home has to be a place that I can live in. My standards are pretty high. And if I can’t live here, do it over. Let’s start again.”
Veterans Resource Program allows up to six veterans to live at the Richmond house for a small fee, and places more people elsewhere. The program collaborates with other Veterans Affairs and community services to offer a one-stop-information clearinghouse, from housing and health care to job training.
“Whatever your desire is, I want to help you get there,” Harris said. “If the road is finances, let’s go to the VA and find out what you qualify for.”
Fifty-four-year-old George Mitchell got work directing construction traffic. Harris guided him in each step of his job hunt as he recovered from drug and alcohol abuse.
“She just gave you that drive,” Mitchell explained. “That nothing can prosper if you don’t go and prosper yourself.”
Harris inspires veterans to believe their lives can change, and she rejoices in each success. So for giving homeless veterans in Richmond a second chance, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Rhonda Harris.
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