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Veterans FIRST auction Saturday in Hollis

Union Leader Correspondent

April 10. 2013 5:49PM

HOLLIS - Ensuring that veterans receive the help they need and have a roof over their heads is the goal of Nashua-based Harbor Homes through their Veterans FIRST program.

To help fund that effort, the Souhegan Valley Chamber of Commerce is once again partnering with Harbor Homes through the Veterans FIRST auction.

On Saturday, April 13 at 6 p.m., the Veterans FIRST Auction will be held at Alpine Grove in Hollis. This is the third year the Souhegan Valley Chamber of Commerce has teamed up with Harbor Homes to support this effort, according to May Balsama, executive director of the chamber, and the sixth year that the chamber has held an event to raise funds to support local veterans.

Balsama said that Veterans FIRST was established in 2004, after the body of a homeless veteran was found along the bank of the Nashua River. The incident caught the attention of Harbor Homes, and with the help on the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Veterans Administration, Veterans First was created to combat homelessness among veterans in Nashua, Claremont and soon, in Manchester.

Since 2004, Veterans FIRST has assisted more than 285 veterans and their families, helping them to move from homelessness to independence with transitional housing and employment training and support, said Balsama.

Balsama said that the chamber and its members support Veterans FIRST because they are an integral part of the communities the chamber serves. They are family, friends, neighbors, employees, and of course, business owners, and they not only need, but deserve support. And in many cases, they aren't getting it.

"There's a quote from one young man I spoke to after he came back from Afghanistan who is suffering from PTDS (post traumatic stress disorder) that has really stuck with me," said Balsama. "He said, 'Less than one percent of us serve so that 99 percent of our citizens don't have to see what we see or do what we do.'"

Those words have stayed with Balsama, who has seen the lack of services available to servicemen and women.

"It's an absolute disgrace," she said. "We treat our cats and dogs better than many of the people who have served our country."

Karen Keating of St. Mary's Bank in Milford, who chairs the committee of volunteers from the chamber and Harbor Homes, said "Everyone has been touched by a veteran. We owe them much more than a parade or a bumper sticker. We owe them for the freedom we enjoy, the country we are privileged to live in."

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