Shepherd’s House transforming veterans

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Since 15 Finds Out began its series of investigations into the Sandbox Veterans, the group has dissolved and the Indiana Attorney General is investigating.  The group formerly collected money from drivers saying it would help Iraq and Afghanistan vets with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

While the Sandbox Veterans never revealed where donations were really going, the Shepherd’s House has focused on that same issue since 1998.

The Shepherd’s House is a transitional living center located on the 500 block of Tennessee Avenue in Fort Wayne.  It currently houses 51 men, most of whom are veterans.

Aaron Pence is one of them.  Pence said he served in Iraq in 2008.  But when he returned home, he describes life as being different.

“I was more quiet.  I wasn’t open about talking about anything.  I suffer with PTSD so finding jobs was a little harder,” Pence said.  “I got into drugs and alcohol heavily to forget about what happened overseas.  I eventually lost my wife.”

After living with friends for a while, he realized he needed help and a veteran’s agency recommended the Shepherd’s House.

“I wanted someone to help me change my life, become a better person inside and out,” Pence said.

That’s exactly what Barb Cox hopes will happen for Pence while he’s in the Shepherd’s House.  Cox co-founded the organization under Christian principles.

“They can live here up to two years.  It doesn’t cost them one cent to live here and they receive all their clothing, their toiletries, their breakfast, lunch, dinner, everything,” Cox said.  “We have a licensed clinical social worker that works with them, doing a treatment plan, case management and helping them get their disability or their pension.”

The organization’s impact in the community is being noticed.  Allen County Superior Court Judge Fran Gull said dozens of people are referred to the Shepherd’s House each year through drug court and the new veteran court program.  Sometimes the referrals live in the house and sometimes they do community service.

“The ones that actually graduate the program, it’s 85 percent success rate, which is unheard of.  And the judges will attest to that,” Cox said.

Pence has only lived at the Shepherd’s House for about a month.  He originally contacted 15 Finds Out upset with the attitude and lack of transparency with the Sandbox Veterans.  Being an Iraq veteran, he felt disrespected by the group’s “volunteers.”

But Sandbox Veterans aside, Pence is one of the dozens of veterans getting the help they need at the Shepherd’s House.  He hopes by sharing his story, it will shed light on very real issues he and countless others struggle to overcome every day.

“It’s been five years since I’ve deployed and I am 94 days clean and sober,” Pence said.  “I plan on staying that way the rest of my life.”

The Shepherd’s House currently has a “C” rating with the Better Business Bureau.  BBB leaders say the group hasn’t provided fundraising expenses or had a CPA review financial records.

The Shepherd’s House CPA and leaders with the organization tell 15 Finds Out that they’re currently working to correct the grade by providing missing information.

For anyone wanting to help veterans in the Fort Wayne area, contact the following organizations:

  • Shepherd’s House:  (260) 424-2500
  • VA Northern Indiana Healthcare System:  Call volunteer services at (260) 426-5431 ext. 71319
  • Associated Churches
  • Disabled American Vets (Allen County):  Contact Patrick Kemp at (260) 418.0301
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