MIDDLEBURG – There is a lot on Old Jennings Road that looks rough on its surface. Under construction, the land is susceptible to flooding and adorned with mounds of debris. But for veteran Keith …
MIDDLEBURG – There is a lot on Old Jennings Road that looks rough on its surface. Under construction, the land is susceptible to flooding and adorned with mounds of debris. But for veteran Keith Mitchell, the land is one of opportunity. For him, it’s an oasis.
Appreciating the land’s true beauty requires vision, faith and hope. These virtues got the veteran off the street and ultimately saved his life.
The recent ribbon-cutting for Fort Barnabas is the beginning of an ambitious project to provide housing for former soldiers who’ve fallen into financial hardship.
The plan includes clearing and leveling the property, followed by installing eight tiny houses and as many as 10 small single-family homes for at-risk veterans.
The first tiny house was donated by “a beautiful family,” according to Operation Barnabas. It still needs county approval and some plumbing and electric work before it can be called a home.
“We’re going to take the first veteran off the street and put him in that house,” Mitchell said. “It’s ready to go. We’re going to start getting people in here around the first of the year.”
According to its website, Operation Barnabas is a Clay County nonprofit that is committed to providing hope, encouragement and mentorship to at-risk veterans and first responders through outreach and resources in a swift and timely manner. By providing sanctuary, meeting physical needs and linking resources, the nonprofit aims to ignite a positive transformation in those striving to find purpose and meaning.
Fort Barnabas will put a roof over their heads while they find the training and life skills to succeed independently.
“We have a place where they can be at peace,” said Operation Barnabas Lead Officer Tyler Summers. “That’s our vision – having a sanctuary place in Clay County to serve veterans and first responders that’s never been done before. We are going to be on the map with this.”
The organization used to get 10 hotel rooms a night in Orange Park, but new ownership at the hotel forced Summers to find a different solution. Fort Barnabas will soon be a temporary home to some of society’s most vulnerable and deserving members.
“Since we started this in 2017, we’ve taken 160 people off the street,” Summers said. “We’re getting permitting done. We’re getting things rolling.
“People who’ve served this country should never live on the streets, or under a bridge or in the woods. We address homelessness, suicide and hopelessness. We don’t want to put a bandaid over a gash. None of this is possible without God. We’re here to navigate through his purpose.”
Fort Barnabas will allow veterans to rebuild their credit scores, replenish their bank accounts and rebuild skills and purpose without worrying about a place to sleep. It’s designed to be a stepping stone toward a positive outcome.
“We want our veterans to give back,” Summers said.
Mitchell said he was homeless near Tampa when he was arrested for criminal mischief. When he was released, a woman deputy noticed he was despondent. She told him of programs that focused on assisting veterans.
“That night, I was back in Green Cove Springs,” he said. “I found people to lean on. I haven’t been in trouble since 2006. I’ve seen a lot of good coming from faith-based programs.”
Mitchell lives on the property in a mobile home. He knows he eventually will have to move because the mobile home will be removed for a permanent structure. Until then, he said his employer, Black Peral Plumbing of Middleburg, has offered to provide plumbing materials, while he said he would do the work for free.
“It’s all about lifting your brother up,” Mitchell said. “When you do that, you lift yourself up.”