Despite heavy rain, elected officials, military members and their civilian partners gathered last week to celebrate the grand opening of Mt. Carmel Center of Excellence — the first military service center for veteran care of its kind in Colorado Springs.
After $2 million in renovations, the 18,000-square-foot facility has welcomed partnering agencies such as the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, United Service Organizations and the Veteran and Military Student Affairs office from UCCS to assist veterans and their families with transition, behavioral health and wellness needs.
Because of founder Jay Cimino’s vision, his daughter Gina’s leadership and local public-private collaborations, the one-stop center for transitioning service members has become a reality, said Col. (Ret.) Bob McLaughlin, Mt. Carmel’s COO.
Since the center’s soft opening in March, Mt. Carmel has assisted 550 local veterans and their family members through its programs.
“The building behind me is brick and mortar — it’s what happens inside of it that is important — us coming together to make it easy for veterans and their families to get the service that they deserve,” McLaughlin said.
The organization’s team and resources have allowed veterans such as Keturah Spence the opportunity to serve in a different capacity. The center helped her make the transition from active duty.
“I wouldn’t be the health care administrator I am today without their selfless service,” she said. “It’s my wholehearted desire that the Mt. Carmel model be expanded to reach more of our brothers and sisters in arms.”
Spence said the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks changed the landscape of her life, and in 2009 she swapped her cap and gown from the University of Georgia for steel-toed boots and a military uniform.
“In my six years of service, I managed multi-million-dollar equipment; I oversaw deployment teams in undisclosed locations; and most importantly, I was a wingman, leader and warrior,” she said.
On Sept. 11, 2015, Spence said she submitted her application to “trade in her boots for heels and a business suit” and that the experience was scarier than any deployment.
“I met the Mt. Carmel team at a veteran’s networking seminar last October and was too anxious to speak more than a few words,” she said. “But what a blessing it was to have them in my corner ever since that encounter.”
The nonprofit helped Spence, who is currently in the Air Force Reserve, sharpen her resumé, maximize the power of networking and connect with a private counselor when her mom died the same week she left active duty, she said.
“I’ve never come across a resource for veterans so invested in helping veterans endure the gamut of physical, emotional, financial and psychological stresses as they leave the military,” she said. “Mt. Carmel has truly invested in helping veterans — mind, body and soul.”
It truly takes a community to deliver Mt. Carmel’s mission and vision, said Sallie Houser-Hanfelder, director of the Department of Veteran Affairs’ Eastern Colorado Health Care System.
“In the 32 years I’ve been with the VA, this is the first time I’ve seen a community come together like this and say, ‘We’re going to put our arms around the men, women and children of veterans, really taking care of the family,’” she said.
“This collaboration is powerful and needs to continue, because we know a veteran doesn’t come to the VA and live in the VA — the veteran lives in the community.”
Jay Cimino cut the ceremonial ribbon to signify Mt. Carmel officially up and running and attendees took a grand tour.
Even Mike Shanahan, former Denver Broncos coach, and former Denver linebacker Randy Gradishar, who helps Mt. Carmel with outreach, stuck around to show their support for the center’s launch.
“It truly is a team effort,” Shanahan said. “I wanted to attend because after visiting the center twice while it was being built, it’s neat to see Jay’s vision come to life, providing veterans in this community a valuable place to go for assistance.”
Partner space is still available at Mt. Carmel. Construction is underway for a health and wellness center across the street that will include fitness coaches, yoga classes and Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans for veterans.