Story and photos by JEFFREY POWELL
It has been said that you can judge a country by the way it treats its military veterans. Sadly, the United States of America has not always scored the highest marks when it comes to this judgment. Thankfully, we live in an age where most Americans realize the sacrifice an individual makes when he or she dedicates their life to protecting the freedoms we all enjoy in this country. One of those Americans visited the DeFuniak Springs Kiwanis Club on Tuesday, August 21, 2018.
Veterans Lodge Founder and CEO Julie Smith comes from a family that has been involved in the real estate business for many years. She has evaluated many properties over the years and when she saw the “Pickett property” just southeast of the I-10/U.S. 331 intersection she thought it would serve nicely for her dream of creating a place where veterans could come to heal and to be healed. She has seen close-up the effects military service can have when a close family friend returned from Afghanistan suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This long-time dream is about to come true and she spoke about it to the DeFuniak Springs Kiwanis Club on August 21.
“I conceived the Veterans Lodge concept approximately five years ago and have since poured my heart, soul and personal wealth into seeing this wonderful concept come to reality,” Smith said. “This project will have a huge impact on the economy of DeFuniak Springs and I would like to thank Gus Andrews for all of his help. We would not be here today without him.”
The Veterans Lodge will be build on a 200 acre site in the heart of the approximately 1,500 acre property. It is meant to heal returning veterans from all branches of the services. The concept will heal mentally, physically and spiritually those in need. A groundbreaking ceremony is “in the works” and will take place in approximately 30 days. Construction should be complete within two years of that ceremony.
“We are going to do everything possible to preserve the character of the property,” said JP engineering representative Matthew Parker. “There is going to be a lot of open space and we are avoiding wetlands when possible. Everyone has been very supportive of this effort and we are ready to get the project underway.”
To learn more about this project see Veterans Lodge.org.