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Liberty House

Catholic Charities join forces to help veterans

By Gary Bouchard

Picture above: Liberty House staff shown outside the Baker Street home in Manchester. Shown from left are, Sandy Chandler, executive director Jeff Nelson, Ashley Kitchell, Bill Zarakotas and Carol Lang. (Photo by Grace Wise)

Since 2004, Liberty House in Manchester has provided safe, respectful and substance-free transitional housing and a supportive community for homeless and struggling American veterans who are committed to a path of independence and self-sufficiency. In September, a letter of intent was signed that paved the way for Liberty House to become a program of Catholic Charities New Hampshire and function in a much larger space where veterans can continue to work together to rebuild confidence, enhance their mental and physical wellness, attain stable employment and lead fulfilling, substance-free lives.

Many people have praised this exciting merger of two complementary missions to better assist a currently under-served population in our state. As usual, there is more to the story, which grew out of a common vision, a providential coincidence, and two men who have committed their lives to supporting those most in need.

By day, David Hildenbrand is chief financial officer at Catholic Charities. But like many people who work there, his service to others extends well beyond his job description. A U.S. Navy veteran with three children in active military service, David began volunteering at Liberty House in early 2018. “I was what they call a Community Ambassador. I worked with the Liberty House director, Jeff Nelson, on community outreach, and so I was in tune with the house and what their plans were,” he says. “They were involved in finding a new residence for their program because their present house on Baker Street was small and needed updating. They had some prospects for a new location, but they all fell through.”

“We’re currently in a 3,700-square-foot, 1930s vintage farm house,” says Jeff Nelson, “and we are bursting at the seams.”

As it happened, David knew that Catholic Charities had a much larger property that was going to become available. The Bishop Peterson Residence for retired priests is being re-located to Warde Health Center in Windham. “I thought the available residence would be an awesome space for Liberty House,” says David, “so [Catholic Charities president and CEO] Tom Blonski, and I approached Jeff with the possibility and he saw the potential for a great residence that could double or triple the current number of veterans being served, as well as house the food pantry, the clothing pantry and a community center. After several meetings, one thing led to another, and here we are.”

Jeff, who has the unusual profile of being a former law enforcement professional, an ordained police chaplain, and an alumnus of both Saint Anselm College and Liberty University, knows that one good thing doesn’t lead to another without God’s help. He is also quick to deflect the credit for this new partnership to others. He knew David as a volunteer at Liberty House, “but I didn’t even know where he worked! The staff here at Liberty House had the vision and David connected with that vision,” he says.

As Jeff describes that vision, one can see the new Liberty House coming to life. “This move will not only enable us to house more veterans, but give us the space to introduce activities for our homeless vets who aren’t in residence, to create an opportunity for them to engage in positive activities with peers … in a place without alcohol or other substances. They’re going to have

In particular, Jeff says, this move and the support of Catholic Charities will allow Liberty House to serve three new populations of veterans: “Vets with mobility issues, vets in transition who have short-term emergency housing needs, and vets who are one step away from full independence, but still need some supportive structure and monitoring.”

When David joined Catholic Charities in 2017, he let the leadership team know about his interest in serving veterans. “It’s important to me and I believe it is a natural fit for CCNH’s mission,” he says. But even he couldn’t have imagined this outcome. “Since Bishop Peterson is already a residence, it won’t require extensive renovations to make this possible. It’s really a blessing!”

Tom Blonski notes how well Liberty House’s mission of supporting lives with honor, dignity and respect aligns with Catholic Charities’ focus on serving people of all backgrounds and walks of life. “We’re excited to welcome this incredible program and Liberty House’s dedicated and passionate staff into our family of programs.”

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