Susan Louis wasn’t always a military mom. “I knew nothing about what families in the military sacrificed. Until my sons joined, I finally realized the sacrifices they made.” She wasn’t always a grassroots organizer either. A nurse, mother to military veteran sons, and Causes.com user, Susan launched a petition last month that helped secure the opening of a military veterans home in Penfield, NY to house soldiers rehabilitating from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Susan’s actions helped support a project created by CDS Monarch, an organization helping developmentally disabled persons, for their Warrior Salute program.
Susan, an active member of the military community, thought the program and housing unit were great. Yet, a divide within Penfield soon grew. “People in the community were a little leery of having veterans with PTSD and TBI move into their neighborhood. People sometimes have a misconception about mental illness and people were sort of like, ‘Not in my backyard,’” she said last week during a phone chat. A school located across the street from the Warrior Salute home was especially worried about the safety of children. Susan completely understood their unease, but her attitude was different. “When you have only one percent of the population in the military, the 99 percent really kind of skates by and doesn’t know about all the sacrifices these soldiers make. This was an opportunity to educate people.”
Susan contacted CDS Monarch’s offices and told them about a plan to create a petition in support of the home. “I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I got an email from the director and they said, ‘Go for it!’” With the help of her family, CDS Monarchs, and Causes community team member James Rogers, the petition went live. Soon, signatures began to accumulate. “CDS Monarchs posted [the petition] on their blog and people shared it. We got signatures from all across the community, and even from places like Germany.”
The story hits really close to home for Susan. Both of her sons served in the Navy and fought abroad. Her eldest son served three tours: one in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. His unit led convoys through terrain littered with IEDs and it was his job to spot them. Susan’s youngest son served two tours in the Persian Gulf as a Navy machinist.
After a few weeks of promotion, Susan’s petition surpassed its goal. “I sent it to the zoning board and the supervisor of the town of Penfield thanked me for it.” The petition became an official document in the Warrior Salute Home files. “I felt good that the effort was respected. We urged local people supporting the appeal to go to the zoning board meeting and we probably had 50 people attend. It’s a small town and people were like, ‘Where are all of these people coming from?’
CDS Monarch held talks with the school and other community members to educate them about their programs for veterans. On May 1, the zoning board voted unanimously to accept the application for the Warrior Salute Home, known as “The Nucor House.” When it eventually opens, the house will be home to 14 veterans. “The community supporting these soldiers is important. Just because people have returned [from war], it’s not over for everybody. We need to remember and keep that in our minds.” Susan plans to send the veterans a gift basket to welcome them to the community. She says it’s the least she can do for a group of men that could very well be her sons.