Retired Army Col. Bob McLaughlin is using his 29 years of military experience to build a one-stop shop in Colorado Springs for transitioning military and veterans in need.
McLaughlin's military experience includes serving as Fort Carson's garrison commander and chief of staff for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Now serving as the chief operating officer for Mount Carmel Veterans Service Center, a nonprofit in Colorado Springs, McLaughlin was nominated as a Hometown Hero for his role as a driving force for the center.
He credits his position to Jay Cimino, the president and CEO of the Phil Long auto dealerships. McLaughlin explained that soon after the two met, Cimino started recruiting him, asking what he was going to do when he "grew up."
"I came home for Christmas in '13 and the phone rang," McLaughlin remembered. "He told me we were going to help veterans in Colorado Springs."
After a conversation with his wife and five children, McLaughlin put in retirement paperwork and fast-tracked his exit from the Army. In August 2014, McLaughlin "reported for duty to the Cimino army."
He explained all this from his office at the Mount Carmel center, dodging questions about him, keeping the focus, instead, on the center and work being done.
Since the center opened two years ago, McLaughlin and Mount Carmel have streamlined veterans services in Colorado Springs, explained Gina Cimino, Jay's daughter and center president.
That includes integrating more than 30 veterans agencies under the same roof and developing three programs to fill gaps in service - behavioral health counseling and wellness, supportive service case management and employment and transition programs.
"Building this center has been a challenge," Gina Cimino said. "We didn't have a manual, we didn't have a model, we built the model ourselves. Bob spearheaded it."
Gina Cimino also explained that the center is starting to report numbers that are attractive to more partners.
According to a January 2018 report provided by Mount Carmel, the center has helped over 3,000 unique clients across 13,000 client visits.
In two years, the center also reports that more than 80 volunteers have provided about 7,200 hours of service to veterans.
But the work isn't done. McLaughlin explained the next focus area is housing - the center has one emergency housing unit, located across the street from his office. McLaughlin plans on expanding that to 10.
"It's not permanent supportive housing," he said, explaining that the support they provide has a time stamp. "But it is a way to that."
McLaughlin looked back at 2017 as a good year but believes that 2018 will be the center's breakthrough year.
With the center's move into housing comes more partnerships, and with more partnerships comes more money, he explained. That means more veterans can receive help.
"If somebody needs help, we will help them," McLaughlin said. "I have defined our mission and we are going to chug away. If you want to join us, join away."
The American Red Cross Hometown Heroes awards recognize outstanding humanitarian contributions by southeastern Colorado residents, companies and organizations. Recipients will be honored at a fundraising banquet March 15 at The Broadmoor. Visit redcross.org/local/colorado.