The Southern Support System for Veterans

By Leighton Durham

In the beginning of the semester, I was at a complete loss as to what I should make my project about. After a couple weeks of trying but failing to come up with a compelling subject, my teacher gave me the idea of shooting the homeless veterans at an organization in Durham called CAARE Incorporated. I was so relieved. At that point, I not only had a unique subject matter, but I also had multiple contacts; and the best part was that it was all simply handed to me! I began the process with expectations of having an already organized project, easily accessible subject matter, and a powerful story to tell.

I was startled and frustrated when it did not turn out that way at all. I struggled to communicate effectively to the contacts, I had trouble getting access and permission to shoot the veterans, I spent hours and hours of time at CAARE trying to find something to shoot to only leave with nothing, and I could not seem to connect with anyone as quickly as I thought I would. To say the least, it was extremely stressful and disappointing.

As time went by, I kept showing up at CAARE, despite my diminishing hope for the project. Just as I was reaching the point where I was thinking about dropping it altogether, I developed a relationship with one of the employees, Joe Drake. Joe told me his life story, let me document of all the work he did at CAARE, introduced me to more people, and made me aware of the annual Veteran’s Day parade and Veteran’s Stand Down event in Raleigh.

From that point on I started worrying less about figuring out a way to access the homeless veterans and only work by the specific plan that I had in mind, and focused more on experiencing and learning from what was around me. That is when I started noticing the multitude and variety of hospitality, support and effort put forth for the veteran population in North Carolina, beyond the services offered at CAARE. It was a pivotal learning experience for me in terms of my awareness of veterans, my understanding of the southern culture, as well as the

The resilient and uplifting spirit put forth for the veteran community is a somewhat unexpected, but extremely valuable part of the southern culture, and I hope that you will get a glimpse of that within these images!

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