Kori and Twanna Monroe, photos by Wengay Newton
By J.A. Jones, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – Builder Kori Monroe has a vision for offering homeless veterans in St. Pete a better life.
His nonprofit organization, Veterans Excelling Towards Success, Inc., is embarking on revamping the former Glenoaks Elementary School at 1900 12th St. S into a brand-new affordable housing complex for veterans, aptly called “Place of Potential for Independent Living.”
According to Monroe, many veterans who enter into career military service straight out of high school lack knowledge on many of the life skills the military handled.
This means that career military personnel might go from high school to leaving the military decades later without knowing how to pay rent or mortgage, purchase necessary insurance, or even be fully prepared to enter the job market.
This kind of gap in knowledge and life skills can hinder and sometimes ultimately hobble a vet’s successful re-acclimation to civilian life.
Monroe’s vision was personally inspired by his father, a vet who struggled with alcoholism after leaving the military. While he didn’t see his father much during his younger years, they re-established a relationship after Monroe’s children were born.
During a conversation in those later years, “One of the things that came up was that he was, for lack of a better term, homeless. He spent a lot of time couch surfing – staying here, staying there,” shared Monroe. “When he got out of the military, he didn’t have many skills.”
Monroe said that conversation made him realize that his father’s story – and their relationship – might have been repaired much earlier if his father had the support and a place to turn.
This revelation made him want to help other military families in reconciling with their loved ones through providing a supportive re-entry experience for them. He knew he had the building skills, and after consulting his wife, Twanna, Monroe decided to embark on finding a place where he could carry out what he now believes is a God-given mission.
Now that they’ve purchased the abandoned school building and it has received its historic building designation from the city, Monroe plans to begin the renovations within the next six months.
Recently, VETS, Inc. had a celebratory open house to honor several area vets and bring together community leaders, partners, and organizations that will be instrumental in the programs and services that Place of Potential will offer.
Monroe envisions Place of Potential as not only a place where vets can find transitional housing up to 24 months but a hub for the wrap-around services ex-service members need. Vets will be offered benefits application assistance for social security, food stamps, Medicare, GI Bill, VRAP, VA housing, VA compensation and other federal benefits programs.
Additional services will include re-entry counseling and life coaching, group therapy, job prep and job search support, and homeownership assistance, including landlord certification courses.
Monroe started his career with a degree in construction engineering and technology from Florida A&M University before building homes for larger companies such as US Homes. After years in building led to supervising sites, and progressing to the level of project manager, he opened his own company, IROK, some 20 years ago.
However, the message his father shared with him after they reconnected about not having any skills reset the course of Monroe’s life.
“If he could have been somewhere stable to get his life together, we could have had a relationship 20 years ago when he got out while I was still young,” Monroe observed.
But realizing he has the skills to make a difference in the lives of other vets and their families informs Monroe’s new mission.
“If I could do something as simple as housing, where they can have some stability and get some reconciliation with their families, I’m like – OK, yeah that that’s what I need to do. I’m still building, but now it’s with a purpose.”
For more information, visit vets-success.org.
To reach J.A. Jones, email firstname.lastname@example.org