HIGH POINT — Billy Riley on Thursday officially received the key to his new home, a cinder block cottage on a former campground.
The 54-year-old Navy veteran is the first person to move into the Heroes Center, a housing facility and community center for those who have served in the military.
“They took the opportunity to help me, and also I’ve been given an opportunity to help them,” he said. “This is a door opening.”
The Heroes Center began in 2013 as Heal Our Heroes, a nonprofit founded by Vietnam veteran Bob Uber. Two years ago the organization began leasing property from the John Wesley Camp in High Point. Crews have spent the past 18 months refurbishing the buildings on the site, which include two cottages, a dining hall with a communal kitchen, and a dorm that will eventually house 18 veterans. Another building, adjacent to the site, will be converted into classrooms.
ABC Supply donated materials and Your Roofing Co. put a new roof on the dorm. Brush was trimmed, sod put in, and a slab of concrete laid down for a parking lot. Workers also tore down a barn that had been on site.
“It was an empty, 6,000-square foot eyesore, and we couldn’t get insurance on the property because of that,” said Victor Jones, Heroes Center chairman and a High Point City Council member. “But once we got that demolished we were able to move forward.”
Money for the renovations has come from private donations and fundraisers sponsored by various businesses around town. The Heroes Center has also received grants from the High Point Community Foundation and Home Depot.
Jones, who served 13 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, said veterans need “a place to transition back into the workforce.” Many of the veterans who will live at the center will be attending Guilford Technical Community College or going through job training programs.
“This is also a way for the community to give back to those who’ve served their country,” he said. “We’re going to be putting together some workforce development programs, where we’ll have companies come here and train people onsite.”
Riley served active duty in the Navy from 1986 to 1990, and in the reserves from 1998 to 2003. During those periods, he served as a hospital corpsman, was a scuba diver, and fueled airplanes. Alcoholism, as he explained, “took the best of me,” but he’s been sober for five years. He had previously been living in housing provided by Caring Services, a substance abuse treatment center. Eventually, he hopes to start his own company repairing houses.
At the moment he’s helping to repair the cottage next to his, installing flooring, cabinetry and countertops. When it’s finished he will move into it, and another veteran will move into the cottage he’s in now.
Workers are still in the process of fixing the big dorm building.
On Thursday, Riley received his key from Jones during a ceremony (though he had actually moved in earlier), and was bringing boxes inside.
Among the decor was a cloth wall hanging with American flag hearts on it that read “Home Sweet Home.”
He said that is “important to look at” as a reminder of what he now has.