Group providing veterans resources, assisting in out-of-state disasters

By Nick Blank nick@claytodayonline.com
Posted 1/5/22

ORANGE PARK — A Clay County organization helping veterans adjust to civilian life gives them a mentor, a place to stay and a chance to get back on track.

Operation Barnabas, named after the …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Don't have an ID?


Print subscribers

If you're a print subscriber, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one.

Non-subscribers

Click here to see your options for subscribing.

Single day pass

You also have the option of purchasing 24 hours of access, for $1.00. Click here to purchase a single day pass.

Group providing veterans resources, assisting in out-of-state disasters

Posted

ORANGE PARK — A Clay County organization helping veterans adjust to civilian life gives them a mentor, a place to stay and a chance to get back on track.

Operation Barnabas, named after the Cyprian saint from the first century, seeks to help veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, family issues or an unstable housing situation. They can also help secure transportation, employment, food or stable housing.

The organization’s Lead Officer, Raylan Heck, was a U.S. Army sniper. Following his deployments abroad, a personal tragedy took the lives of three family members. During struggles with drugs and alcohol, Heck rebounded with faith and a strong network of people who wouldn’t give up on him, he said.

He did athletic fundraisers like cycling for veterans’ organizations, one of which was Operation Barnabas. After spending two years as a mentor, he’s been the lead officer for about eight months.

“Being able to grow through that and trying to grow internally, but also trying to grow through my community who helped me when I was at my worst, really it’s part of becoming whole,” Heck said.

Heck said the organization’s primary focus is ending veteran homelessness and suicide. He stressed the organization offers a hand up rather than a handout.

“It’s about connection and grace,” Heck said. “It’s about community, that’s where opening the door has been a step for myself, but that’s really what Operation Barnabas does.”

Heck and a group of volunteers reveled in the opportunity to serve the tornado-stricken community of Mayfield, Kentucky, early last month. Heck said it was uncertain when the group would leave or who specifically they would help. However, state Association of Vietnam Veterans Florida Director Mary Anne Newman had a contact in Kentucky.

“It’s like, we have to go now, we have a contact. In four days, we basically had raised $6,000 and went down with two trailers full of stuff,” Heck said. “Veterans know struggle and we know service. To be able to go into a community that’s struggling and be able to serve them is awesome.”

Operation Barnabas, which maintains hotel rooms in Orange Park for veterans, has its sights on five veteran housing units off State Road 16, called “Fort Grace.” The organization is also targeting a large event in April.

Heck said Operation Barnabas is asking for mentors, bookkeepers or simply people with the passion to help. Watching the growth of the veterans — who are enduring their own struggles — interacting and assisting Mayfield residents was a powerful feeling, he said.

“To be able to watch that, I know what is possible,” he said. “I know what’s in my heart and I remember how I was. To be able to watch these men start to change and see even a glimpse that’s it’s possible to get out of that … that right there is one perspective shift that can change your life.”

More information is available at operationbarnabas.com.

Comments

No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here