The project was led by Kevin Conley, a U.S. Army veteran who was injured in a truck roll-over accident in Afghanistan and experienced the difficulty of readjusting to life after surgeries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

After years of planning, hard work and donations, the Warriors Helping Warriors organization hosted the grand opening of the Brian Conley Veterans Resiliency Center in Middletown Saturday.

With just a few more tasks to be completed inside and outside, Warriors Helping Warriors is already seeking veterans to serve as house monitors and case managers at the center.

The project was led by Kevin Conley, a U.S. Army veteran who was injured in a truck roll-over accident in Afghanistan and experienced the difficulty of readjusting to life after surgeries and post-traumatic stress disorder. His idea was to help veterans in a variety of ways, with healthcare, jobs, counseling, stress relief and homelessness, and so he and his family started the Warriors Helping Warriors organization with the slogan “Helping veterans win the war at home.”

After talking with many veterans through Warriors Helping Warriors, in 2014 he decided to open a veterans resource center in an old home at 104 S. Broad St. in Middletown and started the renovations. The project has involved endless hours of work by Conley, his family, friends and volunteers along with donations from businesses, veterans groups, school groups, youth groups, churches and community organizations.

Conley named the center after his brother, a teacher at Appoquinimink High School who died of a brain tumor.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Bill Conley, Kevin and Brian’s father, led the dedication ceremony Saturday.

“We’re at the finish line,” he said, after thanking everyone who contributed to the project for all of their time, efforts and donations.

Guest speaker Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long asked for a round of applause for the Conley family for taking the initiative to establish the veterans center and for all of their efforts on the project.

“There is no greater love than the love of those who lay down their lives in service to others,” said Hall-Long. “It’s been a lot of hard work and it really is a partnership. So many people helped with this. I’m convinced that this center will make a great difference with the transition of veterans back to life here at home.”

Kevin Conley thanked Hall-Long for all of her support, and said, “She’s not just here to make a political appearance. She has done so many things behind the scenes to help us and to help me as a veteran.”

Kevin asked Air Force Staff Sgt. Britini Shepard to be a guest speaker about the trauma she went though, how it affected her and why more centers for veterans are needed.

Shepard said this was the first time she had ever shared her story with the public and told about how she was sexually abused by an Air Force instructor during basic training which led to depression and suicidal thoughts. She heard from others who had also been sexually abused by the same instructor and after years, she finally found the courage to report it, but was told the statute of limitations had expired and so no arrest could be made.

Shepard welcomed the help the new veterans center will provide.

“You fear not being understood, your trauma not being believed, but no matter what branch of the service, we get it. This will be a safe place to ask for help and to be understood,” she said. “This center represents hope and new beginnings some never thought possible.”

Gifts and tributes

Sen. Stephanie Hansen presented state Senate tributes to the Conley family and to Warriors Helping Warriors.

“Through the tireless efforts of Kevin Conley and his family, donors and volunteers, this center will provide an around-the-clock haven to veterans and their families,” said Hansen.

Rep. Earl Jaques congratulated the Conleys and Warriors Helping Warriors on the opening of the center.

“This is tangible evidence of their love for their fellow veterans,” said Jaques.

A gift of handmade afghans was presented to the center by Karen Castora from the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Crochet Group and Bill Mariano from the Knights of Columbus, with the promise to make a quilt for every veteran who stays at the center.

Warriors Helping Warriors also received a special donation from a Middletown boy. Owen Schatz donated the $83 he’s collected in tips while helping with his family’s business, Volunteer Brewing.

“I did it because the warriors did something for us and now we have to do something for them,” said Schatz.

The veterans also received a musical salute during the ceremony by youth from The Imagination Players, who sang patriotic songs and the song of each branch of the U.S. military.