A Vision for Veterans: USM grad eyes Hattiesburg-based retirement community for those who served

By J. DANIEL CLOUD,

She was mostly raised by her great-grandmother and her Vietnam War veteran grandfather. Now, she wants to open a retirement home for elderly veterans.

Her name is Amber Travis. The name of the facility will be Grace’s Home of Heroes.

Amber’s great-grandmother, Ovell Travis, died in 2016, “and that left a void in my life,” said Amber.

Fred Travis Jr., Amber’s grandfather, is still around, and, in honor of those who reared her, Amber is gathering funds to start a new retirement facility.

Amber Travis graduated from USM in 2012 with a degree in broadcast journalism. After working at a few places in the Hattiesburg area, she went back to USM as an employee. She is the coordinator of conferences and event services at the university while also spearheading the start-up 501(c)3.

To be clear, “this will not be a nursing home,” she said. “More of a retirement community.”

“Aunt Grace” was Amber’s babysitter for years, “from when I was about a few weeks old until I was about 15 or so,” Amber said. “I named this for her because she had such a big heart. And she was just so kind. I like to think we can be just as kind to our retired veterans as she was to me when I was little. She had a real heart for children.”

“I was really raised by a bunch of other people, too, including a lot of older women,” Amber added, noting that it would have been difficult for one elderly woman to effectively raise a child.

There are other, similar homes for elderly veterans in Mississippi. But there isn’t another in Hattiesburg. If and when this one opens, it will be privately owned, and Amber will be the director, at least at the beginning.

“The state [the Mississippi Veterans Administration] has one home in Collins,” she said. “That’s the closest to Hattiesburg. Another is being built down in the Gulfport area.”

Mississippi’s other state-run veteran’s facilities are in Jackson, Kosciusko and Oxford.

“I don’t want one big facility. Instead, maybe a few small ones,” Amber said. “More of a home-like atmosphere. We want it to be like a little family.”

She hopes the first facility in Hattiesburg will house about 15 veterans and/or their spouses.

“We can’t replace people’s families,” she said. “And we’re not even going to try. Just like I can’t replace my grandmother. We want to be an additional family and get to know them on a personal level. We want to make them feel at home.”

Amber said the facility is seeking major donors and working on a long-term business plan.

So far, the program has received donations from a number of local businesses and larger corporations – including Petro Nissan and Keesler Federal Credit Union – but the facility is still in its earliest stages of development. At the moment, there is no specific proposed location for the home.

“We also hope to serve as a resource for all veterans,” she said. “Our goal is to have an assisted living facility, but we also want to provide other services for veterans and for their families.”

On Feb. 22, the nonprofit’s inaugural Military Mardi Gras Ball will be held at USM’s Thad Cochran Center.

Their first event, a holiday brunch, was held in December. About 30 people showed up, including numerous veterans, their spouses and the five board members. Of those five, Amber is one, two others are military veterans and two others “specialize in marketing, communications and health care.” All are USM alumni.

The keynote speaker at the Mardi Gras Ball will be the commander of Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, Col. Bobby Ginn Jr., she said.

The goal of the event is to raise money for the proposed home, and, according to Amber’s website, the goal of the proposed facility is “...is to make sure the financial status of a veteran and their family doesn’t interfere with improving their quality of life.”

“A lot of veterans who are discharged from the VA hospital don’t have the resources to live alone or at home with family,” Amber said.

She’s expecting around 120 guests at the ball, although she set an original estimate for 150.

Those interested in attending the ball or donating to the project can learn more at www.graceshomeofheroes.com.