BARNEGAT – When Barnegat resident Martin Weber joined the Army decades ago, he never expected to meet the love of his life. Jeff Poissant came home with Weber to New Jersey and ultimately took his last breaths clutching his devoted partner’s hand.
The two set up a life together, which included working side by side in YoBuck Landscaping. They also purchased 36 acres of land on Route 72 in Barnegat. The American flag flies majestically among the treetops of the couple’s ranch-style home nestled in the Pinelands.
In the rear of the property, the sounds of birds chirping add to the retreat-like feeling for those craving a peaceful existence. Weber set up a basin of water for deer to grab a drink as they wander through the woods. Strategically arranged blossoms complement the natural foliage with an array of colors leading to walking trails.
Weber still gets teary-eyed as he speaks about Poissant’s untimely death from bladder cancer four years ago. He believes the system failed when the United States Veteran’s Administration delayed scheduling treatment. Weber vowed he would give his all by doing something for veterans in remembrance of the man who made him feel complete.
Initially, the fight began with a quest to make medical services readily available to those who served the country. Weber ran for Congress last year to be the voice of the people. Two weeks before the election was over, he met up with his opponent Andy Kim in person.
What was intended to be an introductory conversation about an upcoming debate evolved into something much different. Weber asked Kim if he would accept his help on veterans’ issues if he secured the victory. The rest is history in the making as Congressman Andy Kim was by Weber’s side last week to formalize plans for “Jeff’s Camp.”
“Andy and I became friends,” said Weber proudly. “I can honestly say he is one politician who keeps his word.”
Weber first came up with the idea of setting up transitional housing for homeless vets. He made another fast friend with Paul Hulse, CEO of Just Believe, Inc., and the two began to discuss plans. They considered putting up a community of tiny houses on Weber’s land and recently decided to switch gears.
“After talking to the Pinelands Commission, they basically explained that we could do a home on the back property,” explained Hulse. “The front property is commercially zoned, and we will be able to put up a commercial building there.”
Current plans include building a seven-bedroom sober living house for veterans in the rear property. Weber’s property line extends east in the front, where plans are to build an 8,000 square foot commercial building. The building will include an outpatient addiction center and a thrift store.
Another set of introductions led Weber and Hulse to the co-founders of New Life Medical Addiction Services. Joseph Savon, MD, exudes a feeling of hope when he discusses how he intends to help patients. Joel Albano, MSN, APN-A, shares the same drive to deal with the disease of addiction on an outpatient basis.
“The medical aspects of the treatment don’t cure the disease but are just a band-aid,” said Savon. “We want to get the best levels of counseling and help these people with the disease – so they can live a sober life.”
The thrift store would allow clients to volunteer and integrate back into society. They would also have access to community centers for AA and NA meetings.
“We want to give people back their self-worth and sense of dignity,” Hulse added. “With the sober living house being for veterans, it’s a brotherhood – they understand one another’s circumstances.”
Weber and Hulse formalized the first phase of the project last Thursday by signing a letter of intent to donate the real estate. Both had tears in their eyes as they looked to the future.
“They’re the ones who are doing all the hard work and coming up with the vision,” said Kim. “As they come up with a clear sense of the proposal, I am going to doing anything I can to help move approvals along and figure out sources of funding.”
Kim promised to have a grant writer from his office look for funds, while Hulse has already started fundraising efforts. Recalibrate, a non-profit that helps veterans transition from active duty, recently sponsored a 5K race and donated proceeds to the new venture.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Jeff,” Weber said. “I know he would want this as much as I do. I know he would be doing the same thing if I went first.”
If you want to help, you can donate at JustBelieveInc.org/Donate or send a check care/of Jeff’s Camp to Just Believe, P.O. Box 5441, Toms River, NJ 08754.