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Stenkas Open Their Home To Veterans

May 1, 2024 (0)


Article courtesy of 

Atkinson Graphic

Blake Hilkemeir

For the past three years, Kim and Ken Stenka have housed six veterans with no place to go in their own home in Stuart out of the goodness of their hearts. 

Ken, who is the Holt County Veterans Service Officer, has helped homeless veterans and veterans in need for a long time. From finding them places to live to working with them to get a job, Ken has checked nearly all the boxes available when it comes to helping veterans.

However, it wasn't until a few years ago that he created a new box to check off by allowing some of these veterans to live with him and his wife, Kim, while they got back on their feet. 

Like most people would imagine, allowing a stranger into their home hasn't always been easy for the couple. But for the Stenka's, trust has been the key component in doing what they've done over the past few years. 

“It was scary at first,” Kim admitted as she recalled the first time her husband brought a veteran into their home. “I rely heavily on Ken's trust. If he trusts them and he's gotten to know them, it makes it a lot easier for me. There was one veteran we brought in that didn't have a driver's license, a social security card, or anything. So yeah, it does get a little nerve-wracking at times.” 

“But most of the time,” Ken assured, “these veterans are either simply waiting to go into rehab or they're coming out of rehab with nowhere else to go.”

While Kim sometimes struggles to adapt to their new form of generosity her husband leaned her into, Ken always relies on his intuition and discernment when it comes to bringing a new person home. 

“You know, the first day or so you're around them you can almost always tell whether they're feeding you a story or if there's something deeper to the situation,” he stated.

While most people would be concerned about the possibility of thievery in the middle of the night or during the day when they're gone for work, that's something the Stenka's try to put out of their minds when housing a guest. 

“My dad always said, it's not our stuff, it's Gods stuff,” Kim said. “So, whatever happens to anything in this house, if they decide to take something, we find comfort in knowing it wasn't ever our stuff to begin with.” “There's nothing in this home that we could not live without,” Ken added. 

Despite how hard they must work on gaining trust with a stranger in their home, both agreed that nearly every time it's a lot harder for the veteran to trust them than it is for them to trust the veteran. 

“A lot of the reasons that they continue moving from place to place were because they either don't get along with people or they simply don't trust them,” Ken said. “It really is hard for them to trust people. One time I gave a fella a place to live, a bed, furniture, and after all that you could tell he still just couldn't get himself to trust me.”

Nearly all of gaining their guest's trust, the Stenka's said, is making sure they know they're seen as part of the family when they stay with the Stenka's. 

“Most of them just want to be a part of a family,” Kim said. “We always make sure they know they're invited to our Easter, or our family Christmas, and a lot of them come.”

Once the veterans begin feeling like they're part of something bigger than themselves then they really begin coming out of their shells. 

“When they come to our holidays and hang around the family you can just tell they want to be a part of something bigger,” Kim stated. “Part of receiving the healing that they need is being brought into a family, not just putting them in a room and leaving them alone to solve their problems.”

These past few years of success in helping veterans grow is what grew the idea of Bridgehead, an idea created by Kim and Ken to help give veterans a home and community to go to when they're caught at the crossroads of life. 

Building off the situations they've had when housing these veterans in their own homes, the Stenka's plan on creating a facility that feels like a family for these veterans that offers professional help in mental health, finding a job, getting to doctors' appointments, and everything else these veterans need to get back on their feet. 

In just three years of housing veterans, the Stenka's have learned a lot about what it means to help people in their time of need and hope to use those experiences on Bridgehead in the future. 

Although most of the veterans that the Stenka's have housed don't usually stay in their home for more than a few months at a time, some still reach out to Ken to give updates on how their lives are going after their stay with the Stenka's. That, they said, is what really makes it all worth it.

“I have one guy that's up in North Dakota right now that calls me every week,” Ken said. “He lets me know that he's still alive, and that he's getting married and that he's doing well now. It's just encouraging.” 

Kim and Ken are currently continuing to work together with their team of board members on Bridgehead.


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