From The Tribune staff reports
LEEDS — A groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday, November 9 at 11 a.m. for the new Tri-County Veterans Services Center and Community Center will be held at 1721 Moton Street in Leeds, the site of the Moton Community Center.
In attendance will be Leeds Mayor David Miller, who is also a Navy veteran, as well as commissioners from Jefferson, Shelby, and St. Clair Counties, other community leaders and veterans, will join Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Phillips, CEO of the non-profit Priority Soldier; Major General George Bowman, Project Director; and Dr. Gloria Haynes, Executive Director of the Moton Community Center and Deputy Project Director.
“This is a great opportunity for our community,” Miller said. “The center will help us deliver more services to our families and veterans across the region.”
The tri-county area of Jefferson, Shelby, and St. Clair Counties represents approximately 60,000 Alabama veterans. In addition, the city of Leeds, just 17 miles from downtown Birmingham, is uniquely positioned, with parts of its city within the borders of all three counties. The Tri-County Veterans Services Center will have spaces for counseling and administrative support for veterans, areas for children’s after-school activities and summer programs, spaces for senior activities, and recreation facilities that can be used by veterans or anyone else in the community. There will also be meeting and event space on the premises.
The 12 acres of land, including the Moton Community Center, are ideal for the Tri-County Veterans Services Center. The vision for the Center, proposed by the non-profit Priority Soldier, which addresses critical issues affecting veterans and their families, will provide the following services to veterans on-site in Leeds:
- Mental health support for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury.
- Counseling with licensed and trained counselors and psychiatrists.
- Administrative support to veterans and veteran families applying to the Veterans Administration for benefits.
- Support and guidance to obtain housing for homeless veterans.
Representatives from the Moton Community Center and Priority Soldier Inc. believe positioning the Tri-County Veterans Services Center on the same site as the Community Center allows veterans to have additional opportunities to participate with their community via mentoring, coaching, job training, etc. Thus, finding ways to reintegrate and become fully functioning, healthy members of their community.
According to the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, the veteran suicide rate is even higher than the national veteran average and significantly higher than the national civilian average. The most recently released data shows nearly 18% of those who died by suicide in Alabama are veterans. The Tri-County Veteran Services Center will tackle this challenge and other challenges that face veterans and their families head-on.
The Moton Community Center is housed in the former Robert R. Moton High School, which operated from 1948–1970 as the blacks-only school serving students in Leeds, Irondale, Overton, and Trussville until desegregation. The school was named after Robert Moton, the second president of Tuskegee Institute (Tuskegee University today). Moton’s leading role in the establishment of the Veterans Administration Hospital for Negroes in Tuskegee, as well as his advocacy for the training and preparation of black students to serve in the United States Armed Forces, serves as a fitting legacy and foundation for the creation of the Tri-County Veteran Services Center on the site of the current Moton Community Center.