Nathan Hale Veterans Centers President Chris
Hart is the OCM's 2014 Person of the Year
Hart made a mammoth sacrifice to serve those who sacrificed
for our country.
He is always quick to say that his sacrifices are
nothing compared to those of veterans.
By Emily Clarkeclark@wickedlocal.com
PLYMOUTH - Looking back, Christopher Hart can find so many military icons and figures in his ancestral chart that there isn’t time for him to chronicle them all.
He might begin with the Civil War, and mention in passing that one of his ancestors was an abolitionist. Another served in World War II and yet another fought in the Revolutionary War. He can even go higher in his family tree and find more military figures serving in European wars so long ago it’s hard to believe there is so much documentation about them. Hart has pinpointed them all, and said this tree of self-sacrifice and dedication to one’s country is simply in his blood, so it’s really no wonder the branches of his own life took the turn they did in 2001.
Hart was working in quality control for a printing supply company, logging frequent-flyer miles as he traveled all over the United States, when the bottom fell out of his world. This former bat boy for the California Angels said he can remember Sept. 11, 2001 as if it were yesterday. He had tried to enlist in the military when he was 18, but didn’t pass the physical. He was pronounced healthy but a minor issue prevented him from making the cut – a massive blow to a guy determined to honor the blood his ancestors had spilled for their country. Now, terrorists were infiltrating his beloved country.
What to do?
Hart remembered his grandmother, who lost her 23-year-old husband during World War II and continued to work tirelessly at the war office, and he formulated a plan. If he couldn’t serve in the military, he would serve the military at home. America’s Hometown and, indeed, the whole region, had no veterans outreach center, so Hart decided to open one, little knowing he’d just embarked upon an incredibly difficult journey that would carry him through some of the darkest nights of his life.
He quit his job and blew through his retirement funds researching how to open a nonprofit veterans outreach center. He asked for support from politicians and officials and gave veterans free rides to their V.A. hospital appointments. The money had already run out when Hart realized how hard this was actually going to be.
A number of downtown merchants and some officials didn’t want a veterans center in America’s Hometown and expressed concern that homeless vets would suddenly be set loose on the Plymouth streets. A waiting game ensued, one of the cruelest Hart could ever imagine. He learned that bets had been laid he wouldn’t make it through the summer and that this idea of his would die. They were going to wait him out. The gamblers didn’t realize that Hart, like his ancestors, was tough and would outlast their doubt.
He worked harder, but he was hungry. He was out of cash and had lost 35 pounds. His teeth were falling out from malnutrition and he was living in his van. Brennan’s Smokeshop’s owner and developer Kevin Craffey gave him some money, and his landlord, who found Hart sleeping in the van, told him to sleep in his office while he waited for state funding.
And like a miracle, it came. Hart had been transformed into a gaunt shadow of the man he had been and he was barely making it through the day when he learned that the efforts of Rep. Tom Calter, D-Kingston, and Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, had turned the tide.
Today, Nathan Hale Veterans Outreach Centers offers free rides to medical appointments to veterans who need them, a food pantry, gently used second-hand clothing, art therapy and yoga, bicycles and the oh-so-crucial counseling, provided by one of Hart’s personal heroes, David Stone.
Nathan Hale has a zero percent suicide rate with the veterans it serves, and the center now has two offices – one at 34 Main Street Extension, Suite 204, in Plymouth and another at 260 Centre St. in Middleboro. And even more services for veteran are on the way, thanks to the guy who refused to give up.
Hart made a mammoth sacrifice to serve those who sacrificed for our country. He is always quick to say that his sacrifices are nothing compared to those of veterans.
The Old Colony Memorial is honored to name him as the paper's 2014 Person of the Year.