When Roger Waters started his tour of The Wall in early 2010, he wanted to create a connection between the concept album’s anti-war sentiment and the former soldiers who returned from battle wounded. He asked his brother-in-law, Jim Durning, to invite veterans to the shows, perhaps 20 in each city.
“It was moving and illuminating -- we learned so much about the challenges they face,” says Durning, who handles Waters’ merchandise and veterans-outreach efforts, having brought more than 1,500 wounded vets to "The Wall Live" shows and orchestrated meet-and-greets with Waters.
A meeting with Bob and Lee Woodruff at last year’s Stand Up for Heroes event -- a dozen wounded vets performed with Waters there -- led to discussions with Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller, whose Fuller Foundation provides housing for the homeless.
As research began on where best to start, they discovered Shreveport, La., one of the top three cities with high rates of homelessness and unemployment among veterans and a high percentage of vets living below the poverty line. They created Veterans Village with houses going to veterans who completed a two-year program that included 90 days in rehab, steady employment and adherence to a formulated financial plan.
Ground was broken for the first four houses, financed by Waters’ $300,000 donation, on March 9. Keys were handed out to families on June 4 after Volunteers of America and musician John Mayer helped build, paint and furnish the homes.
“Collectively, we have a responsibility to these men and women when they come home,” Mayer wrote in an email. “They take good care of us when they are serving their country -- we need to take good care of them when they come back to us.”
Mayer spent a day in Shreveport, accompanied by some fans, painting a house with its future resident working along side him. They toured other homes, shared a group lunch with the volunteers and veterans and, in Mayer’s words, “got to do something important together.”
“It’s amazing what everyone has accomplished there,” Mayer says. “It’s a real community.”
Mayer and Waters share a personal interest in helping U.S. military veterans adjust to healthy civilian lives. Since 2011 Mayer -- a longtime supporter of veterans causes -- has been involved with the Northern California Institute for Research and Education (NCIRE) in providing post-traumatic stress programs for soldiers after they return home from service.
“What was also great about the day was that it brought together so many people and organizations behind one cause—building these veterans and their families a home,” Mayer says. “We had Roger’s team represented, we had my team from NCIRE there, we had people from Bob Woodruff’s team there, and several local organizations there, too.
“I’d love to get Roger and Bob to the Bay Area to check out what NCIRE is doing and see how veterans are benefitting from their programs. And last year I played at Bob’s annual gala in New York. It’s great to be able to help each other out.”
The Woodruff Foundation, which stepped in to steward funds and handle accountability reports, found itself in a unique position of working with multiple smaller organizations. “This is a good example of a community getting to the heart of a problem,” foundation executive director Anne Marie Dougherty says. “And for us, it’s the definition of a model for future success.”