A surprising number of veterans experience difficulty returning home from their service. An estimated 37,000 experience homelessness and are in need of treatment for mental health problems related to PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) and traumatic brain injuries. Haven for Heroes was organized to help those vets in need of care.

Championed by Anoka State Senator Jim Abeler, Haven for Heroes is located on the campus of the former Anoka State Hospital which was closed down at the end of 1999, Haven for Heroes began in December of 2018 taking over for Eagles Healing Nest. The organization provides an substance and alcohol-free residence that helps veterans transition back into civilian life.

While the buildings on the campus (referred to as “cottages”) are striking in their architectural design, they are definitely old since the state hospital opened in 1900. But they’ve done what well-made buildings do: they were built to last. However, some are in need of skilled trades have because they’ve fallen into disrepair. Enter the Kevin Garvey, the apprenticeship instructor for Plasterers Local 265, and his group of apprentices.

During a meeting with Sen. Abeler, Garvey was asked if he would enlist his plasterers in restoring the campus. Garvey told him, “Heck, yeah, we’d love to be involved with this!” He figured it’ll be a great learning experience for his students. “It’s fantastic — absolutely fantastic! — for the kids. They’ve learned a lot and been exposed to a lot we can’t expose them to in the classroom,” he added.

Garvey has used 13 apprentices during his team’s time working on the campus, beginning by repairing water damage in Cottage 2. This past session they worked on the auditorium filled with old-school ornamental plastering. “It’s almost a living laboratory,” he said. But there’s so much to do. Some of it involves such classic, historical design it requires more time and expertise they can lend to it: “I could stay here for six months working on this.”

Not only have the apprentices gained valuable experience, they’ve benefited knowing they’ve  helped others. As Garvey explained, “They feel like they’ve done something fo the vets. Everybody loves to do something for the vets. They feel like they are doing a little part to make life easier for them, getting them off the street and with a nice place to stay.”