Clark County’s Trapp Elementary School south of Winchester sat vacant for several years, but on Friday it was a bustle of activity as dozens of volunteers mopped and scrubbed, tore out old building materials and replaced ceiling tiles.
Lady Veterans Connect is transforming the 22,000-square-foot school building into a home for female veterans and their children.
Team Depot, a volunteer group of Home Depot associates, provided about 40 volunteers from 13 stores in Kentucky, southern Indiana and West Virginia who worked on the day-long project. They will return in the coming months to help with painting and further renovations.
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Phyllis Abbott, the co-founder of Lady Veterans Connect, said the organization will provide housing, life skills training, financial literacy classes and other services for up to 35 female veterans and their children from throughout the country.
She said a high percentage of women leave the military with post-traumatic stress disorder, along with scars from sexual trauma experienced during their service, and there are few organizations dedicated to serving them.
“The primary thing is just to love them,” Abbott said. “Because that’s what they need more than anything, love and value.”
Eight classrooms are being turned into sleeping quarters, and the cafeteria, with its jungle-themed mural, will become a kitchen where the women cook their own meals. The gym will provide space for community events, and the playground is still waiting for children to play on it.
Abbott envisions a garden where the women will grow their own food, seating in the wooded areas out back for quiet reflection and cottage industries operating out of the home to help support the program.
A nurse and social worker will work there full-time, she said.
But the project has a long way to go before it can house the women that Lady Veterans Connect hopes will one day live there.
Abbott said that replacing the furnace alone could cost $250,000 to $270,000, and the organization is trying to raise money to complete the renovations and open the house by next summer.
Lady Veterans Connect was formed earlier this year, when two organizations aimed at helping women veterans joined forces.
Sheppard’s Hands was founded by Abbott to serve homeless female veterans, and Lady Vets Connect was founded by veteran Sherry Whitehouse of Louisville to bring female veterans together.
The new combined organization opened a house on DePorres Avenue earlier this year that can serve up to three homeless female veterans, but they have hoped all along to have a place where women can bring their children.
Trapp, Abbott said, provides the perfect place for that.
“It’s so peaceful,” she said.
Trapp Elementary and nearby Fox’s General Store are the heart of the Trapp community, said the school’s owners, Bryan Howard and Allen Taylor.
The men bought the building and the nearly seven acres on which it sits last year, because they had an emotional attachment to the school and didn’t want to see it torn down.
“This IS Trapp,” Howard said Friday.
Both men have lived in Trapp all their lives and attended the original school that sat on the property as boys. That building burned after being struck by lightning in 1984.
“It was a sad day in Trapp,” Taylor recalled.
The building there now was constructed in 1985, and Howard and Taylor’s children went to school in it.
But several years ago, consolidation forced the school to close.
“We both wanted to save the school,” Howard said, but they didn’t know what they would do with it until another veterans group expressed interest.
That plan fell through, but the men liked the idea of using it to help veterans, so they approached Lady Veterans Connect.
“When I walked in, they just kind of swarmed me,” Howard said of his first meeting with the women.
Abbott explained that the group didn’t have any money, but “we liked what they were going to do,” Howard said, and they agreed to make it work.
For now, Taylor and Howard are carrying financing, and Lady Veterans Connect is still in the process of buying the property through a land contract.
The community has rallied around the project.
On Friday, Howard and Taylor were serving up chili to the volunteers, made with meat donated by Fox’s General Store, which now carries Tab sodas especially for Abbott.
The Boonesborough Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution was sorting donated clothing in the gym, and Clark County Judge-Executive Henry Branham stopped in to check it all out.
“This is really exciting,” he said.