Residents at Cathy’s House, an eight-bed, permanent, supportive/transitional housing program designed for women veterans, enjoy a therapeutic garden provided by a $1,600 grant from the American Legion Auxiliary Foundation and an additional gift of $500 provided by local Winchendon Unit 193. Funds were used for a bench, equipment, permanent plants, trees, shrubs, and a small shed to house the gardening supplies, while ALA Unit 193’s contribution supported the purchase of seeds, bug spray, and sod.
Cathy’s House, the first of its kind in this rural area of Massachusetts, offers a place of healing for women veterans to overcome personal challenges and gain the benefits from a life of balanced wellness. The goal of the facility, under the direction of the Montachusett Veterans Outreach Center (MVOC), is to provide supportive programming in a safe, permanent or transitional congregate home setting.
MVOC founder, Cathy Stallings McWilliams, knows all too well the pain, frustration, anger, and grief that come with the unnecessary death of a loved one. Almost 40 years ago, her husband, Vietnam veteran Jesse H. Stallings at just 33 years of age, tragically took his own life while battling post-traumatic stress disorder. She immediately began a fierce crusade to do whatever it takes to prevent further needless deaths. Cathy’s House is appropriately named to honor McWilliams’ advocacy for veterans and spans decades.
MVOC Executive Director William Edson said what began as the Vietnam Era Veterans Outreach Center of Fitchburg opened its doors in Fitchburg in 1981, and has become one of the largest nonprofits in Gardner, serving veterans in northern central Massachusetts, across the state, and in other New England states. The MVOC offers low-income housing alternatives and residential readjustment programs, mental health counseling, case management, employment training, personal development, veterans’ benefits resource assistance, medical transportation, and food assistance.