Broward County

Broward veterans have new center for services

Former U.S. Army soldier Dennis Robinson and his wife, Mary, in the lobby of the United Way of Broward County’s new Jean and David Colker Center in Fort Lauderdale.
Former U.S. Army soldier Dennis Robinson and his wife, Mary, in the lobby of the United Way of Broward County’s new Jean and David Colker Center in Fort Lauderdale. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

All it took for Dennis and Mary Robinson to leave their life on the streets was a stranger with a business card.

Dennis, 57, who served in the Army stateside from 1980-83, said he and his wife were in the parking lot of a Fort Lauderdale Winn-Dixie in March 2014 when someone from Mission United approached him. The man told him about Mission United — a program run by the United Way of Broward to help veterans re-acclimate to civilian life.

“At first I wasn’t sure what they could do,” said Robinson, who said he and his wife lost their contracting business and then their home. “But I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for Mission United.”

His wife has a guess.

“We’d be sleeping in the medians, like we were,” she said, adding the couple now has a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland Park and a refrigerator with food inside. “Life on the streets is tough.”

The Robinsons were part of a ceremony held Tuesday to open Mission United’s new home, the Jean and David Colker Center. The $1.1 million building at 1300 S. Andrews Ave. will be a one-stop shop where veterans can get help with legal, medical, educational and other services.

Kathleen Cannon, president/CEO of United Way of Broward County, said since Mission United’s inception in 2013, more than 2,000 of Broward’s 100,000 veterans have been helped.

“We worked really hard to have this building ready by Veterans Day in honor of all of the veterans,” Cannon said. “This building is going to service veterans but is also going to pay tribute to them.”

A memorial dedicated to the military’s five branches sits in front.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat for Florida’s 23rd District, was on hand for the ceremony, which included the raising of a flag that once flew over the U.S. Capitol.

Jean Colker, 93, handed Cannon a present wrapped in brown paper — a gift of $100,000, on top of the $500,000 she had contributed for the building.

“We sleep comfortably at night because they work to keep us safe,” said Colker.

For Sonny Crouse, 33, having something like Mission United when he left the Army in 2004 at age 22 would have saved him a lot of heartache.

“You are on your own,” said Crouse, who was an Army ranger. “Military life is very regimented. You don’t have to worry about things like getting housing and buying food.”

Crouse, who now works in finance and volunteers with Mission United, said being able to help other veterans has been therapeutic.

“Giving back is probably the greatest thing I have ever done,” he said.

To learn more, go to MissionUnited.org.

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