WINCHESTER, Ky. (LEX 18) — Just a short drive from the heart of downtown Winchester lies a simple, brick building where women veterans can find refuge.
Lady Veterans Connect is a local organization focused on providing resources to women veterans in the Bluegrass State.
The organization purchased the old Trapp Elementary School building and has spent several years renovating and transforming it into a transitional home for female veterans.
"It's seeing a dream come true," said the organization's president Phyllis Abbott. "We'll have people that are going to love on them and treat them like sisters, mothers, children. They'll get the love and security that they need here. You have to have that if you're going to heal."
Female veterans are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless veteran population, according to the U.S. Department for Veterans Affairs.
Programs like Lady Veterans Connect exist across the nation to help these women, but the number of beds available for women is often outmatched by those provided for men, according to Abbott.
"There are only five beds designated for women veterans [in Kentucky] and there are over 24,000 women veterans in Kentucky," she said.
To meet the growing need, Abbott has made it her priority to establish the transitional house in Winchester, nicknamed "Anna's House."
She said the reason it's taken a few years to finish the renovations is that they've been managing projects in small bursts, as funds were made available.
"We've done this without going into debt for anything," Abbott said.
And so, little by little, Lady Veterans Connect has transformed the building into a place veterans can feel safe.
Lady Veterans Connect was set to begin accepting residents in April 2020, but the pandemic delayed the opening date.
"It really set us back in being able to reach out to those women and provide the care that they need," Abbott said.
Despite the delay, the renovations continued, and they have started accepting applications for the housing program.
"This is an important place here, and this is an important step in a female veteran's life," said Frances Howard, a navy veteran, and the program's first resident. "You know, [veterans] don't have to go through it alone. We're here. We want to help."
The former school building has eight classrooms, where room dividers have been put up to break up space into three bedrooms and living space. Eventually, 32 women will be able to live here during a 12-month transitional housing program.
"Everything we do is going to be positive and yes, we're going to be successful here. We're going to make a difference," Howard said.
Lady Veterans Connect provides job training, teaches life skills, and helps the women with their mental and physical health, in addition to providing a place for them to sleep every night.
Abbott said they will slowly begin accepting residents since COVID-19 continues to be a top concern to the organization. Only five or six beds are available at this stage.
But, their doors have been opened, and Abbott said she is looking forward to seeing Winchester become a place known for the grace, kindness, and recognition it shows its women veterans.