Former homeless veterans embark on mission for struggling vets

FAYETTEVILLE (WTVD) -- Calvin and Renee Elder know what it's like to live out of a car.

The couple collectively served nearly 40 years in the U.S. Army. Calvin Elder retired in 2001, and his wife preceded him with a medical retirement in 2000.

Before the Renee's disability funds kicked in, mounting medical bills, a large mortgage, and expenses of a young family took its toll. They sent their son to live with a relative, and the Elders spent five months living in their car.

"It's a very humbling and harrowing experience," said Renee Elder.

The Elders got back on their feet. They made it. Some of their friends, including Edwin Bourne, did not.

Bourne, a decorated retired Fort Bragg soldier, was found dead in a storage unit earlier this year. Details surrounding his death are still unclear, but one thing's for sure--most of his closest friends, including the Elders, had no idea he was living in that unit.

"Nobody could have told me that would be his final destination," said Elder.

But it won't be his legacy.

Through their nonprofit, Veterans Empowering Veterans, the Elders will name one of two donated properties after Bourne, for the benefit of other local veterans.

The spacious home sits vacant on Person Street, in need of major roof repairs and a kitchen renovation.

Soon, the Elders hope to make it a job-training and life skills center for veterans. They are also fundraising to flip a Hope Mills property into a shelter for veterans.

Too often they've been reminded of the plight of homeless veterans. Before themselves and Bourne, it was another friend.

"My comrade in arms died a similar death," said Elder through tears. "A homeless person in an abadoned building...well -decorated soldier. Served his country well."

It's all the inspiration behind an extension of the couple's nonprofit, which they started in 2009. Last year they moved into a spacious office and warehouse space on B Street where an all-volunteer, 8-member staff provides clothing, counseling, job training and food to struggling veterans.

"There shouldn't even be such a thing as a homeless veteran in the United States of America, the country that we serve with our whole heart," said Elder.

"My job, my life-long for the remainder of my life, I will stand up and advocate for homeless veterans, low-income veterans, displaced veterans, cause that's my mission in life," she said. "That's my calling."


On June 6th, the Elders' non-profit will host their second annual Venetian Ball. The masquerade event will be held from 7 p.m.-12 a.m. at the Holiday Inn Bordeaux in Fayetteville. Tickets run $50, and all proceeds will go toward the $25,000 needed to renovate the two residential properties.

For more information on the 501 C3, or how to contribute to the event, volunteer or donate, click here.

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