The new one-stop resource center for veterans in Delaware will hold its ribbon cutting next month.

The new one-stop resource center for veterans in Delaware will hold its ribbon cutting next month.

Located on a 5.5 acre lot on Port Penn Road, the nonprofit Victory Village at Boxwood Manor will offer veterans in the state with job training, legal aid and other resources when it opens its doors in January.

A ribbon cutting ceremony will be held Nov. 20 to dedicate the facility and give it a new name, “Victory Village, The Beau Biden Center for Veterans,” in memory of Vice President Joe Biden’s son, the former Delaware attorney general and National Guard member who lost his battle with brain cancer earlier this year. Approval from the Biden family for Victory Village to use Beau Biden's name is pending. 

Once open, the facility will also offer transitional housing to 32 male veterans, and eight female veterans that need time to get back on their feet, said L. J. “Nick” Callazzo, a former Marine and the executive director of National Veterans Assistance Coalition.

“We’re trying to help these veterans come back and make the transition to civilian life with a sense of pride,” Callazzo said. “We want to do a 180-degree turn from what happened to our veterans in Vietnam. I don’t want to see that again. And, I’m sorry to say, but I don’t think our state is doing enough for our veterans.”

Two years ago, Callazzo’s two business partners purchased the property which was once known as the Van Hook-Walsh School for Retarded Children. The main building came equipped with a large kitchen, ample size rooms, bathrooms, and enough areas to set up offices, reading, and job training rooms.

The back of the property had a large two-story barn, two large car garage buildings, a swimming pool, and a rancher with several rooms. But like the main building, all these were in poor shape and deteriorating rapidly from years of neglect.

Callazzo set up a venture to fix up the property and turn it into a place where veterans could come and receive needed resources. He has spent the past year seeking help from individual donors, corporations, family-owned companies, veteran groups and organizations, and others to rebuild the facility.

Now, Victory Village is slowly, but surely coming together. The installation of a new $200,000 fire sprinkler system required by the state will be completed by the end of November. Many rooms, including dormitories have been cleaned up and some furnished, and one of the car garages was rehabbed and converted into a new chapel.

The work to bring the property up to code will continue in the next few weeks and the last step will be to secure an occupancy permit from the state which will also need to be approved by the Department of Veteran Affairs.

“We think that within two months the male veterans will already be living here, and by the end of the second quarter I hope to have our female veterans living here too,” Callazzo said. “The resource center will start right away in January.”

The meditation pathway

On Sunday, Callazzo was joined by community members in a ceremony to dedicate the new chapel and a 368-yards long meditation pathway on the property. These two are important components of Callazzo’s vision of providing veterans with resources for their mental and spiritual needs, he said.

Though the chapel has been completed, the meditation pathway has only been laid out, but it will be created in memoriam to all veterans in Delaware as far back as the Civil War.

“The path will take 2,200 bricks and we’ll figure it’ll cover most of the veterans in Delaware by that time. Every brick bought will have the veteran’s name, rank, and date of birth on it,” Callazzo said.

Along the path, 10 wooden benches have already been installed by Lee Zweiacher, a Boy Scout with Troop 123. Zweiacher, a student at Middletown High School, built the benches for his Eagle Scout Project. He solicited donations from community members who wanted to dedicate the benches to a particular veteran.

“I wanted to find a way to give back to the community and veterans because they have always been important to me. One of my grandfathers was in the Army and the other was in the Navy. I also had another relative who died after several tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. So I thought to myself, ‘How can I do that?’” Zweiacher said. “I felt honored to be able to do something for the future residents of Victory Village and a meditation pathway with benches will hopefully provide a place of solace and comfort for them.”

One of the benches on the path has been dedicated to Beau Biden.

At Sunday’s ceremony, those who attended the event took a tour on the uncompleted path and stopped at each of the benches. Patty Dailey Lewis from the attorney general’s office was there to dedicate Biden’s bench.

“I really enjoyed having sponsors talk about the person that their bench was named,” Zweiacher said. “The weather was perfect with the leaves changing and it was easy to imagine veterans being able to enjoy a peaceful walk and respite along the meditation pathway.”

For Callazzo, seeing young people like Zweiacher contribute to the work at Victory Village is an important sign that younger generations have also take interest in the needs of veterans.

“It really gives me hope to see these young people involved,” Callazzo said. “This too is part of their legacy.”