New homes will provide key to better life for female veterans

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PITTSFIELD — Retired Army Staff Sgt. Andrea Esposito moved into Soldier On transitional housing in Leeds when she was homeless and struggling with opioid addiction.

Jacqueline McArthur-Farmer, who left the Army in 1990, moved into the same building about seven months ago, after fleeing domestic abuse.

Now that the women have gotten back on their feet, through housing and programming offered through the organization, they will be among the first female veterans to move into Soldier On's Katie Doherty Veterans Village in Pittsfield this winter.

"They basically saved my life," Esposito said of Soldier On staff, during a tour Friday of the 14-unit complex under construction on West Housatonic Street. "I'll still have them as a support."

Soldier On works in partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies to provide veterans with shelter and support toward independence that includes homeownership.

Esposito and McArthur-Farmer, along with several of their neighbors at the transitional home, will be moving into one-bedroom units that average about 457 square feet. Rent will be around $817 a month and include utilities, internet and basic cable.

A small group of Soldier On's board of directors and supporters attended an open house at the site of the project Friday night.

It is named after Catherine Doherty, a consultant to the Soldier On Women's Program and director of the Soldier On Training Institute. Doherty said she originally was called in to write a needs assessment for how to better serve women through what traditionally had been a male-dominated organization.

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But, after meeting the female veterans in need, she stuck around to build the organization's women's program, develop holistic wellness practices and implement training models.

"I have to tell you, I was so compelled by the women I met, so compelled by their stories," she said at the gathering.

Throughout the process to build women's programming and the housing project, Soldier On administrators never said no to her ideas, she said.

Doherty called the village, which was named in her honor, a "testament" to what happens when women voice their needs and they are respected.

"When women say what they want, and it's heard, this is what can happen," she said.

Visitors then were offered tours of the unfinished building. McArthur-Farmer went unit to unit, trying to determine which she liked the best.

While McArthur-Farmer never before has lived in Berkshire County, she participated in community theater production through the Williamstown Theatre Festival in August.

"That was a beautiful representation of what the Berkshires is all about," she said. "I would love to make that one of my hobbies."

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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