by HARRY HANSON
There are signs of progress in opening the Valley Forge Village project on the former Minnesota Correctional Facility campus. The project is part of the Patrick McCaffrey Foundation. Mike Weisser, Vice President of the Patrick McCaffrey Foundation, explained the latest happenings to citizens and city officials of Sauk Centre in moving ideas towards actions in a meeting Wednesday.
Weisser and others brought forth reports of 'nay saying' from some Sauk Centre residents questioning an influx of persons into the community who might be 'unsavory,' an increase in taxes, and taking over jobs now held by local citizens. Apparently there are some around who feel apprehensive about helping to bring the project into fruition, feeling this is sham for securing some individuals a chance to make a lot of money.
“We shouldn't feel this way about our veterans who may have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own,” stated Weisser, and reinforced by others. “This is a time when immediate help is needed for that group of Americans, and we have immediate access to the finest property in the entire country for the variety of opportunities which could become a reality.”
The project will be funded in total by donations to open the facility and will be fully self-sustaining within two years by income from various sources. A case study and business plan substantiates this projection as determined by experts in their fields.
Without naming names as yet, there are several activists with money resources and political clout who are not only showing interest but also nudging others to come forth. “Hopefully this will extend to the Presidency and Congress to take immediate action through the stimulus package,” he said.
Weisser handed out a 7-minute DVD to those in attendance, gaining input as to how to best distribute them.
Suggestions were made to have a showing on the Sauk Centre Herald stage during the Stearns County Fair and at the Interpretative Center.
The video is also on YouTube and can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=7wSYD84y--g
“There are people knowledgeable and capable enough to coordinate the many facets required in getting the project underway,” cited Weisser, who explained some of the pluses for the campus besides its having buildings already in place.
The entire project would be monitored by Larson-Allen, a world-class C.P.A. firm that specializes in nonprofit organizations. They would set all salaries based on local pay standards and provide controls and audits over local contractors, which will provide services and products.
The veterans who would come to the facility are not those in need of extended care such as provided by the Veterans Administration. Instead they would be single, married, even with families, who may not be able to find a job, and in need of educational opportunities required in the present societal framework.
“Many veterans would come to the village who have been diagnosed with PTSD or TBI and just need a place to decompress before trying to fit back into society,” said Weisser.
These veterans are not victims but are returning warriors who fought to keep our country free and now have earned the right to have the training and rehabilitation necessary to lead a productive life in society and with their families, according to Weisser.
The grounds and location have much to offer.
“For instance, there are 35 acres of farmland ready for organic farming to be taught by persons steeped in that area,” said Weisser. “A Minneapolis organic food coop is already on board to purchase all the crops from the site. A barn already built could house horses used for equine therapy for residents and their families.”
There can be an innovative wellness program for the vets, which would be monitored by two doctors from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester who have a great feel for such a veterans program and its centering on body, mind and spirit.
Sauk Centre, being in the center of the state, also has easy access from three highways systems moving through the city, I-94, State Highway 28 and US Highway 71. The city is close enough to eight colleges and technical schools within easy bus distance. Alexandria, Willmar, St. Cloud, Staples and Wadena are cities with such institutions.
Weisser went on to stress Valley Forge Village would be a nonprofit, privately run national institution with some financial and other aid from government. “Hopefully, within two years after its inception it would be financially manageable on its own,' said Weisser. 'There are available opportunities to initially house as many as 250 persons with a staff around 75-100, depending on the needs of the veterans.”