As Harper Lee once wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird, neighbors bring each other food, flowers, and “little things in between.” As longtime neighbors – and friends – of Home Base, the North Bennet Street School (NBSS) has done quite a bit more. The school, which has long been a haven for Veterans transitioning back into the civilian world, recently demonstrated continued support for those who have served through the donation of a custom-built, wooden front desk for Home Base’s new National Center of Excellence in the Charlestown Navy Yard. The desk will serve as a poignant welcoming point for Veterans, Service Members, and their Families from all over the country arriving at Home Base for the first time.
In many ways, Home Base’s new headquarters in the Charlestown Navy Yard represents a merging together of old and new. The space will be a state-of-the-art facility, but the caliber of care and strong Boston roots will remain. The new building is directly adjacent to the USS Constitution, which serves as a poetic reminder of the strength of the American spirit. When the Home Base team initially began visualizing the new space, there was a strong desire to capture the new “look and feel” of Home Base while remaining centered around the core values upon which it was founded. The team turned to their neighbors at the North Bennet Street School for help executing this vision. The school was on board, and it did not take long for a team of 15 NBSS student Veterans to pledge their time, talent, and energy to design and build a custom front desk for Home Base.
“The opportunity to have these incredibly talented student veterans from the best craft, trade and artisan school in the country build THE welcome desk for veterans and families at Home Base was paying it forward at its best,” said Michael Allard, Home Base’s Chief Operating Officer. “As home to the first and largest private sector clinic in America, this custom, hand-made desk will capture the heritage of Boston along with the USS Constitution’s motto ‘undefeated’ as our Veterans and families endeavor to heal from the invisible wounds of war.”
The desk, which was inspired by the USS Constitution, was constructed using pieces of reclaimed white oak and was designed to symbolize the indomitable spirit embodied by “Old Ironsides,” as well as by the thousands of Veterans and Families who have come through the front doors at Home Base since its inception in 2009. Thanks to the generosity of the USS Constitution crew, a piece of the original foremast of the ship will hang above the front desk at Home Base.
As it tends to go in Boston, there are multiple connections between Home Base and the North Bennet Street School. Home Base’s Chief Operating Officer, Michael Allard, has had several relatives graduate from the trade and artisan school. The partnership goes both ways: Rob O’Dwyer, Director of Admissions & Student Success at NBSS, recalls interviewing nearly a dozen individuals over the years who have cited going through Home Base at some point in their life. Founded in 1881, the school has long had an affiliation with the military and is well established as a hub for Veterans returning from combat. Today, 20% of the NBSS student body is comprised of student Veterans – the second highest percentage in the state of Massachusetts.
“Working with your hands, problem solving, and learning to be patient with yourself while creating something that’s useful absolutely has a cathartic value,” says O’Dwyer. “I am not a clinician but qualitatively, I can see peoples’ faces change from when they arrive here – especially if they have a service related disability.”
For the student Veterans involved with the project for Home Base, it was a profound experience to work together to create something that will undoubtedly come to represent hope for those Home Base serves. Among those student Veterans was U.S. Army Veteran Brennan Simpson, who recently completed two years at NBSS Cabinet and Furniture making program.
“Being a Veteran myself, the notion that I would have a hand in creating something purely for my fellow Servicemen and women gave me a great sense of pride,” Simpson said.
Simpson understands firsthand how difficult it can be to transition into the civilian world after the military and was eager to represent his school through participation on this project.
“I was in the Army as military police, and when I decided it was time to seek a different path, I stumbled a bit trying to figure out what I wanted to do as a career outside of the military,” he recalled. “I recognize that so many Veterans don’t have contingency plans in place for what they will do when they are no longer soldiers.”
Simpson hopes the desk will serve as a conduit between Veterans and the trades, sparking a dialogue among Veterans who may be struggling with the transition back to civilian life.
“The desk itself is layered with symbolism,” Simpson explained. “The oak bears the scars of its former life, but isn’t defined by them. Instead, the surface has been textured by hand to expose a fresh surface. When viewing the entire desk, the texture has a uniformity to it, but up close you can see that each small section is distinct and nuanced.”
All told, the project took Simpson and the rest of his team several months to complete. The students toiled day after day in the shop to ensure the project was completed in time for Home Base’s move.
The desk was installed at Home Base’s new headquarters on August 29th, and the National Center of Excellence will officially open in September. Soon, Veterans, Service Members, and Families from all over the country will come through the doors and pass by the new front desk. In what is undoubtedly a major milestone in the history of Home Base, it is only fitting that the program’s oldest neighbors should play a part. Although the new headquarters will enable Home Base to grow exponentially, the front desk serves as a nod to the program’s Boston roots, and simultaneously serves as a testament to the North Bennet Street School’s continued efforts to welcome Veterans back from war.
Many thanks to our friends at the North Bennet Street School for dedicating their time, talent, and energy to create this special piece for all those who come through our doors to enjoy.