Group helps veterans break 'new ground'

New Ground helps veterans and their families


New Ground’s mission is “to break the cycle of veteran homelessness,” according to the organization’s executive director for the past 12 years, Shannon Boyle.

Boyle said she thinks the work people put into helping families is what makes New Ground unique. “It’s really intensive, and it’s a holistic approach about looking at everything and working on everything,” she said, “but then, five years later, you’ve got a family that’s on their own [and] successful . . . and that’s really breaking the cycle.”

Eight years ago, New Ground, a nonprofit organization whose offices are in Levittown, helped change the life of a Uniondale family. A single mother with three children was struggling, according to Boyle. The oldest daughter, a high school sophomore at the time, thought she would have to drop out of school and get a job to keep her family out of homeless shelters.

With New Ground’s help, all three children eventually graduated from college, and Boyle attended the eldest’s daughter’s commencement, at Temple University.

“[As] they’re walking out, I turn to her mom and I say, ‘Congratulations. You have a college graduate,’” Boyle re-called. “And she said, ‘No, Shannon, we have a college graduate.’”

Boyle said that New Ground follows the definition of homeless offered in the 1987 federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act: anyone living in an emergency shelter or a space not fit for human habitation.

“For families and veterans homeless on Long Island, it’s not a three-week experience,” Boyle said. “It’s not even a three-month experience. It’s usually months and months [and] years of homelessness and living on the edge. One wrong decision or one fluke circumstance, and everything topples.”

Hempstead Town Councilman Dennis Dunne praised the organization. Levittown was built by veterans, for veterans, Dunne said, and that it is a good thing when people help veterans. “They do a lot of help for veterans and their families . . .,” he said of New Ground. “To me, they are trying.”

Boyle said that a critical part of helping homeless families and veterans move forward is employment. New Ground teaches adults interview skills and how to write resumes, to help them increase their income and, ideally, find jobs that provide paid time off and benefits. The company also offers help with managing and saving money, improving credit reports and paying debts. It also makes sure children are doing well in school, and that they have the services and support they need to succeed and go on to higher education.

Last year, New Ground secured its first two housing properties for families and veterans — a home in Huntington and another in Bethpage, the latter donated anonymously.

New Ground’s staff of six is busy every day — Boyle said that they are always planning three months ahead — and are assisted by around 200 volunteers per year. The veterans and families that the company works with are seen weekly. During the summer, there is a tutoring program one night a week, and a Reading All-Stars program is held every Monday and Thursday during the school year.