Alabama Veteran, a nonprofit that strives to connect Alabama veterans and help them transition to civilian life, made a huge announcement Saturday at a fundraising event.
During Casino Night at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham – The Wynfrey Hotel, the organization announced it will soon develop a multi-use facility in Lincoln for veterans and their families.
The Talladega County Commission and the city of Lincoln gifted the organization around 60 acres as part of its Veterans Park Project. The project is part of a plan Daniel Centilli’s mother wants to see happen.
Alana Centilli said her son died in 2019 after years of battling an injury in Afghanistan followed by additional medical problems. Daniel Centilli was a Marine, and when he returned home, his mother had to take care of him. It was later discovered he had a brain tumor. After surgery and treatments, Daniel was still unable to care for himself.
Just two days before Christmas in 2019, Daniel passed away peacefully in his sleep.
“Daniel’s story is not going to end here,” said Alana Centilli Saturday night. “Not if I have anything to do with it.”
And she does have a lot to do with it.
Alana came up with an idea for a multi-use facility for veterans. After detailing plans, she took them to her uncle, Talladega Commissioner Darrell Ingram.
Ingram said he and Alana approached Lincoln Mayor Carroll “Lew” Watson, and what happened next was unbelievable.
“He walks over and pulls the blind down and said, ‘This is our dream for a veterans' park.’ Alana looked at me, and she started crying. It was just unreal,” said Ingram.
The city and the commission gifted a part of the land for the park to Alabama Veteran to make the idea for the facility a reality.
“It’s an emotional ride,” said Ingram.
Alan Cook, co-chair of Saturday night’s event and an original member of the Alabama Veteran's board of directors, said the property will not only house veterans but will offer much more to help them transition to civilian life.
“So, when they leave, they have a place to go,” said Cook. “It’s like a reverse boot camp. When you leave your home when you first [join] the military, the military puts their arms around you, and they walk you through the process of how to become a soldier, how to become a Marine, how to become a sailor or an airman. Whatever branch you go into, they teach you the steps.”
But Cook said part of the problem is that after military members are done serving, things often change.
“They only spend a week or two to teach you or to give you resources and websites to get out,” said Cook. “So, they don’t teach you how to be a civilian anymore.”
There will be 20 to 30 houses available to veterans, with all expenses paid, including meals. Phase II of the project will also include family homes.
“If they’re displaced, don’t have a place to go, we can get them back on their feet,” said Cook.
Cook said the facility will provide a holistic approach for those suffering from PTSD and TBI, including things such as equine therapy and scuba diving,
“We’re trying to get better and get engaged [in ways] that don’t require the traditional mental health of sitting in front of a clinician and talking. No veteran wants to do that. What they want to do is ... be able to be around other veterans that are suffering other like-minded mental health illnesses while going through therapeutic and tried and proven therapies that are not clinical in nature.”
As for the county of Talladega and the city of Lincoln, Ingram said they will continue to support whatever growth is needed at the park.
“I’m just excited to be a part of this,” said Ingram. “It’s humbling. I’m going to do [what I can], and I’m sure whatever our commissioners can do, they will do.”
Saturday’s event was themed “Casino Night,” and included $1,000 in gameplay, a plated dinner with dessert, dancing, a silent auction and a raffle.
Michael Rodriguez, an Army Special Ops veteran, was the guest speaker at the event.
If you would like to donate to Alabama Veteran, click here.
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