Mark Baylis looks around the Hotel Jonas and says, "It looks like a combat zone."
Baylis, a retired U.S. Army Special Forces SGM, is referring to the ordered chaos of a huge cleaning and renovating push this week for the newly formed VALOR Clinic, a program and shelter for homeless veterans that he co-founded with veteran Tony Cross. The weeklong event is called Hotel Jonas Refit and Transition Days.
About 70 volunteers showed up for the 10 a.m. call to duty Sunday.
Volunteer Michael Dudak of Brodheadsville said, "This is an incredible cause. Some servicemen and women sacrifice their lives, their service so I can be free. Getting involved in something like this where I can lend my horsepower seems little enough."
Mandy Marotto said, "Look what are troops do for us. This is just a way to pay it forward."
Disabled veteran Chris Geiser of Albrightsville served in the Army for 14 years until he was wounded in Afghanistan in 2007. He felt he had to be a part of the volunteer efforts at the VALOR Clinic.
"Mark is a true leader. He's got a lot of us wounded guys to come out to help each other. This is great. Awesome," Geiser said.
Army veterans Julie and Brian Marchesi think VALOR is a worthwhile endeavor. Their son, Brian, 29, is currently serving in the U.S. Air Guard stationed in Afghanistan.
"After Mark told me what he is doing and asked for our help, I told him, 'Let's do it.' My sister is a veteran and I feel this project is very important," said Alma Ruiz-Smith, vice president of RSVP.
Bill Bracey, owner of Bill's Shop Rite of Mount Pocono, provided a free lunch for volunteers.
Of the 10 bedrooms on the second floor, six have their own bathrooms and four will have to share two single baths. These rooms for homeless veterans will hopefully be ready by Oct. 1.
Ruiz-Smith plans to ask businesses to donate a $1,000 toward a room to make it ready. Rooms will be named after businesses that donate $1,000.
Some homeless vets have dogs. There will be accommodations for a dog run.
"They've lost a lot. We won't ask them to give up their loyal companions," Baylis said on the need of the dog run.
Baylis said the vets in the program will stay at VALOR between 90 and 120 days. They will go through counseling and a life skills program, teaching them how to survive on their own, help them get jobs and how to manage a checking account.
"What these men were trained to do in war doesn't help them to do well in civilian life. We want to help them make the transition," Baylis said.
VALOR Clinic is being named the Major Paul Syverson Veterans Sanctuary, or "Paul's House," as it is quickly becoming known. It was named after Baylis' friend who died June 16, 2004, hit with a missile in Balad, Iraq. Syverson came from a unit with the motto, "To Free the Oppressed."
"He was a good friend of mine, as are his widow, Jackie, and their two children who now live in Pennsylvania. How appropriate that we had closing of the hotel, June 16, 2014, 10 years to the day of his death," says Baylis. "It was meant to be."
Baylis says he had hoped to have a big dent carved out on Sunday. By 2 p.m., he was extremely pleased with what had been accomplished.
"The core of volunteers later can chip away at the rest. We made huge progress today," he said.
You can help clean VALOR Clinic from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. now until Saturday. Hotel Jonas is at 1130 Scenic Drive, Kunkletown, at the intersection of Route 534, Jonas Road and Dotters Corner Road.