Phillip Harris is a disabled veteran who didn’t have a way to transport himself to crucial medical appointments, or even just around town — until this week.
On Thursday, Harris received the title to a 2000 Ford Taurus Wagon from Hometown Outreach, a nonprofit thrift store that opened earlier this year at 51 Maple Ridge Drive in Cartersville. The car was donated to the store via a local dealership that wishes to remain anonymous.
“This car will help me get to my appointments,” Harris said. “I’m looking at total knee replacement, shoulder surgery, and ... I mean, that involves a lot of back and forth to Rome and Atlanta. And that’s just going to make a world of difference.”
Harris, like many other veterans, has had an exceptionally tough time readjusting to civilian life since he returned home from Iraq in 2005. He originally enlisted in the United States Air Force during the Gulf War when he graduated high school. After being honorably discharged, he returned home, obtained a commercial driver’s license and began driving trucks for a living.
But when 9/11 occurred, he couldn’t sit idly by. He re-enlisted and soon found himself in Iraq, working mostly checkpoint and convoy duty. It was during that time that his team hit an improvised explosive device and Harris was “busted up pretty bad.” He had one initial knee surgery following the incident; however, since returning home, he has grappled with the complications of his injuries as well as memories of the violence.
“War’s [an] ugly thing,” Harris stated. “And no matter how strong you think you are, there’s certain things you see in life that take a part of you away from you.”
Facing more health issues than ever before, Harris needed help. It was fortuitous, then, that he met Jean Newberry, who has quickly become a good friend. Upon learning of Harris’ situation, Newberry began searching for an organization that would help him with his transportation needs. They happened upon Hometown Outreach completely by chance.
“Basically, [they] walked in and said, ‘[We] need help,’” recalled Jo Cox, founder of the nonprofit. “And I said, ‘Well, we’re not going to turn you away. We’re going to make it happen. What [do] you need?’”
Cox and the staff at Hometown Outreach worked with the car dealership to acquire the title to the vehicle and present it to Harris, who expressed his gratitude. Now the veteran, who has struggled in dealing with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in the past, will have a reliable mode of transportation to address his various needs. When asked if there’s enough being done to assist veterans in the United States, Harris said he doesn’t believe there is.
“[We could] do a whole lot more for our veterans,” he stated, in reference to the DVA. “It’s just a bureaucracy, I guess.”
It is well-documented that the DVA has developed a poor reputation in the eyes of many, especially those who are dependent on its services. In fact, according to an article by The Associated Press that appeared on The New York Times’ website Oct. 2, President Obama recently appointed a new inspector general to oversee the department and “bring more accountability to an agency that has struggled to meet some veterans’ health care needs and provide timely decisions on benefits.”
Thanks to the actions of one car dealership in conjunction with Hometown Outreach, however, Harris is one veteran who’s receiving a helping hand from non-government entities. The nonprofit is currently seeking to expand itself to assist with even more community needs, Cox said.
“Our ultimate goal is to open a day shelter and community kitchen for Bartow County,” Cox noted, citing there is a great number of homeless individuals in the local area.
“So what we want to do is provide a day shelter to where we have technical training skills and various other type[s] of placement.”
Everything inside the thrift store costs $1, and a full list of what can be donated may be found at Hometown Outreach’s website, http://bartowdonation.org/. For more information, visit the website or call the store at 404-660-9758.