I didn’t think I would cry while attending the Open House and Dedication of Ashley’s Place, but I did.
I didn’t think I would cry while researching the life and tragic death of 1LT Ashley White, but I did.
I didn’t think it would be so hard to write this article, but here I go.
Like a patchwork quilt, I will stitch together the background, experiences and efforts of over twenty individuals, three non-profit organizations, and countless volunteers and donors. The threads have been interwoven and created an amazingly rich, colorful and strong fabric.
This community fabric is strengthened by connections, common bonds, gratitude and giving.
The story begins with a visit with Jennifer Gewarges, Executive Director at U.S. Vets in Phoenix, Arizona in July 2022. I met her along with fellow veterans from American Legion Post 64 and we were given a tour of the U.S. Vets housing facility. My friends Al, Bill and Jack were impressed with the professionalism and services they provided. During our brief meeting, I asked how our American Legion post could directly help veterans in the community and Jennifer told us about Ashley’s Place and how it was planning to open later in the year. We were all excited about the opportunity to assist in raising money and awareness for female veterans in need of safe and affordable housing in the Phoenix area.
Members of the Ahwatukee American Legion Post sprung to action and helped in fundraising events in September and rallied to present a donation to U.S. Vets at the Open House for Ashley’s Place in November.
Who was Ashley White?
I feel a special connection to 1LT Ashley White because we took such similar paths during the six years of our life after high school. We both participated in ROTC in college and received our US Army officer commissions after graduation. Though our deployments to war and combat operations took place 20 years apart with mine in Saudi Arabia and Iraq in 1990-91 and Ashley’s in Afghanistan in 2011, I’m sure we shared common experiences and emotions.
The harrowing story of what happened to 1LT Ashley White on October 21, 2011 is chronicled in the book Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team or Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. Ashley and her special unit gathered intelligence from local Afghan women who, for cultural reasons, couldn’t talk to men outside of their own families.
While traveling on a night patrol with US Army Rangers, Ashley was killed by an IED explosion in the Kandahar Region of Afghanistan. She was part of a newly formed Cultural Support team CST-2 which deployed alongside various elite units of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. Ashley was 24 years old.
Looking at photos of Ashley in her military uniform reminded me of the strong and fierce female soldiers I served with and reading about her unit’s mission inspired me to take action. Her bravery, determination and commitment to helping others made me so proud of her. I am humbled, touched and motivated to write, speak and advocate for women veterans across Arizona and our great country.
What is Ashley’s Place?
Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona, in partnership with the Milanovich Trust, U.S. Vets-Phoenix, and Arizona Sustainability Alliance came together to create Ashley’s Place, a two home complex for women veterans in need of affordable housing.
Ashley’s Place will provide transitional housing focused on addressing the unique needs of women who were exposed to trauma during their military service.
The two five-bedroom homes will provide a safe environment for up to 30 women annually with low incomes or who are coming out of homelessness, as well as daily meals. During a stay, women will receive individually designed wraparound services including individual and group counseling, case management, healthcare, transportation, career and life skills training and other vital supports, helping them transition to a permanent home of their own.
For more information on Ashley’s Place including referral forms, applications, donation and inquires, please contact them at: AshleysPlace@usvets.org .
The Open House and Dedication
It was clear, cool and sunny Saturday morning in Phoenix, Arizona and over a hundred people were gathered outside of two special homes in the Maryvale Village neighborhood. After the Presentation of the Colors by an impressive and well-trained Color Guard and a beautifully sung National Anthem, guests were asked to assemble and be seated in the large front room of one of the houses.
Jason Barlow, CEO and President of Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona, welcomed everyone and shared the story of the genesis of Ashley’s Place. He thanked all of the volunteers and donors for their great work and dedication to this special and important project. He introduced Dave Elston, House Leader, who recognized and appreciated the large team of local Habitat for Humanity volunteers.
The most emotional part of the Dedication ceremony for me was hearing the brief and powerful words of Ashley’s mom, Deborah White. I could see and feel the intense feelings of love and loss in her voice and face as Deborah reflected on her daughter’s fierce spirit, dedication and commitment to her country. She was proud of Ashley and greatly appreciative that the two new houses were named in her honor.
Veterans Helping Veterans
Also in attendance at the Open House event on Nov. 19, 2022 were over fifteen members from two local American Legion posts.
John J. Morris Post 62, Peoria, AZ
Coni Moore was joined by over ten members from the Post 62, Auxillary, Sons of the American Legion (SAL), and Legion Riders in attending the Open House/ Dedication event. Together they raised over $5,000 to help provide supplies and furnishings to the two Ashley Place homes.
Ahwatukee American Legion Post 64
Darlene Hunter and Post members Al Hunter and Jack Armstrong joined me at the Ashley’s Place Dedication event where we presented Jennifer Gewarges from U.S. Vets with a $550 donation to help veterans during this holiday season.
Post 64 looks forward to future collaboration in on-the-ground, community events were the American Legion members can assist fellow veterans in need.
More about the Organizations
U.S. Vets is the largest non-profit organization with boots on the ground to combat America’s Veteran homeless crisis head-on. Their holistic approach provides housing, counseling, career and supportive services to help Veterans rebuild and thrive. With over 32 sites across 11 regional locations in Arizona, California, Nevada, Hawaii, Texas and Washington D.C., U.S. Vets is uniquely positioned to help Veterans and their families across the nation successfully transition to civilian life.
Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona
Since 1985, with the help of generous donors and volunteers, Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona has built more than 1,180 homes, affect more than 3,000 repairs, and improve a place called home for more than 4,000 Arizona families. To learn more, please visit habitatcaz.org or follow them on Twitter @habitatcaz.
For more information about Ashley’s Place and video interview with Jason Barlow and Jennifer Gewarges check out:
Arizona Sustainability Alliance
The Arizona Sustainability Alliance is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit action and advocacy organization that creates and supports cutting edge, project-based sustainability solutions in Arizona through civic engagement, collaboration and education.
In collaboration with volunteers and partners, Arizona Sustainability Alliance is greening the two homes by planting trees and plants and installing vertical and raised gardens. Other outdoor features include ground cover, pavers, and fencing. This project creates a welcoming outdoor space for the veterans and their families.
Kayla Killoren, Programs Manager for Arizona Sustainability Alliance said, “We’re honored to partner with Habitat for Humanity and U.S. Vets on Ashley’s Place, an incredible project that will provide housing for female veterans in Phoenix.” More information is available at https://www.azsustainabilityalliance.com/