“For the longest time, I didn’t really know what a ‘veteran’ truly was,” says Andrew Holbert, a Corban alum and executive director of Courtney Place Veterans Housing in Salem, Oregon. “It wasn’t until I first experienced my own struggles after getting out of the Marine Corps that I began to understand what that title meant.” 

Now, as the executive director of Courtney Place, a new affordable long-term housing complex for veterans complete with wrap-around services, Holbert has a chance to offer a critical set of solutions to the many problems plaguing veterans in the community. The recently-completed $13 million project offers 34 full-time apartments at an affordable rate to veterans, with a quarter of those units dedicated to veterans who reside at Tanner Project, a veterans homeless shelter. Holbert is quick to point out that Courtney Place is not a short-term housing facility, but instead a permanent housing offering just like any other apartment complex.  

“The idea of permanent housing as a solution is one of the only viable solutions,” Holbert says. “When they pitched this program as not being transitional housing, I thought that was a great first step. But housing is only a foundation for change.” Community is the piece Holbert points to as the key to seeing veterans thrive post-service. It’s a philosophy he first began developing during his days as an undergraduate studying ministry at Corban University. It was here that Holbert first realized the role he could play in meeting the unique and diverse needs of veterans.  

“I’ll never forget. It was in a Dr. Bruce and Dr. Hills American Thought and Culture class. I pulled out some spiral notebooks and pens, and in the front row I saw this kid pull out a tablet, unravel a keyboard, and click that thing in there, and I just thought, ‘I am so underprepared,’” he laughs. 

From that point, seeing the need to bridge the gap in his own lack of experience reintegrating, Holbert and another student veteran went about creating Corban’s first veteran support program. In Corban’s community, Holbert began to thrive. “I am so grateful that I was able to go into an environment like Corban’s rather than a larger state school where I would’ve just been another face in the crowd. It was such a nurturing place for me,” he says. “There’s such a quality difference at Corban compared to other schools and universities I’ve been at. My professors at Corban made it abundantly clear that it wasn’t just about the grade, but that it was about teaching and growing both in the classroom and outside of it. I was a person and not just a student.” Corban’s community had such an impact on Holbert that he later returned to complete two graduate degrees, receiving his MBA and MPA, which he considers critical to his ability to be effective in his current role.  

Now, with years of experience serving veterans in a variety of different roles from higher education to local and federal government, Holbert is looking back to his Corban days as a starting point for what he and his team hope to achieve at Courtney Place. “We want to engage our residents kind of in that ‘Corban way,’ on a personal level,” he says. “We are trying to build community, because that’s what most veterans feel like they have left behind, and they don’t know how to get it back. In this place, we can bring community to them.”  

Courtney Place exists in close partnership with the Family YMCA of Marion & Polk Counties. Each resident receives a membership to the YMCA when the move in. Courtney Place was born from the YMCA’s historical housing background, dedicated to its namesake, retired Senator Peter Courtney, who lived at the YMCA for two years starting in 1969. He was adamant that after the YMCA’s recent remodel they returned to their housing roots. 

Bolstered by close community partnerships, as a part of Courtney Place’s wrap-around services, Holbert and his team are dedicated to making sure the veterans they serve have every opportunity to engage with the help and resources needed on a personalized and individual basis. Courtney Place employs case managers and a support specialist, assisting residents with Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security and disability, VA benefits, and more. The first floor has a community room dedicated to meeting needs and also welcoming in the community through other organizations, businesses, and churches.  

“I think what we are trying to do here is more than a feel-good idea. There’s some substance to it,” Holbert says. “Our goal is to try and change the trajectory of our veterans’ lives so that they can move on to the better futures that we know are out there for them. We are more than housing. We want to change lives.” 

Holbert and his team are keenly aware of the variety of struggles the veterans who come through their doors will be facing. With such a diverse group of age ranges and backgrounds, Holbert is eager to dispel prevalent myths about veteran populations, offering solutions and hope where he has often encountered pessimism.  

“As a veteran population, somehow we have come to own these terms like PTSD and suicide like it’s our thing, but it’s not. That’s an issue for everybody. We are loud and vocal about these issues, but we are so much more than these struggles,” he says. “Transition is hard. The military is a different culture. We speak differently, prepare differently, and see life through a different lens. People are complicated and require complex and variable solutions.” 

With Courtney Place in its first month of operation, having opened on April 1 of 2024, Holbert is already seeing both the challenges he expected and also the triumphs he has prayed for. More than anything, after months of construction, inspections, and planning, he is excited to continue in a calling he first discovered as an undergrad at Corban, meeting his residents with the same grace, patience, and wisdom he found in his professors. “I’ve been nervous about all the phases of construction, and everything leading up to our opening,” he says. “But I am not nervous about the people part. That’s what we’ve been waiting for.”