By: Emma Wheeler | WCTV Eyewitness News
March 4, 2018
VALDOSTA, Ga. (WCTV) – Veterans were helping veterans on Sunday in Valdosta. Freedom Fest brought together dozens of local businesses and organization to support Veteran's First Light.
The non-profit provides community support and resources for local veterans, and works to end veteran homelessness. Founded last year, the organization founder, Bryan Roy, said they have already helped over 130 veterans.
Freedom Fest is meant to serve as a continuation of that.
"It's building community. You have an opportunity to have conversations with other veterans, and realize those folks that may live down the street served just like you did. It builds camaraderie in our town, that's what it's all about," Roy said.
During Sunday's event, a number of local veterans who lost their lives were recognized and their families honored. Madison Rising also put on a benefit concert.
One of the organizers with Veteran's First Light is Michael Altepeter, a retired United States Army Sergeant. He completed three tours of combat and worked as private security for five years, retiring in 2014.
But upon returning to American soil, new hardships began.
"I hit rock bottom at a point. I went through a divorce, I lost a child, I coped heavily with alcohol," Altepeter said. "At the time, I didn't recognize I was having problems with things, but Bryan, he saw that and slowly he got me to the point where I finally accepted help."
The Veteran's First Light program began to blaze a new path in Altepeter's life.
"By getting help I was able to get my sobriety, I was able to turn my life around, meet my new wife, grow my family with children, been completely blessed," Altepeter said.
Now, he's dedicated his life so others can find that same hope.
"It was amazing when I saw that light at the end of the tunnel, and that's why we call it Veteran's First Light. Now I have every reason to live. I have hope, I have desire, I have a drive that's in me that I had when I first joined the military. And that's what we want to give back to the community," Altepeter said.
The program aims to show all veterans that even with tough days behind them, better days are still ahead.
"Now that I've been able to get myself straight, get myself sober and rebuild my life, and find that drive and that ambition, I can be that beacon of hope and light for my friends," Altepeter said. "Just knowing that the family is still there. Just because you're out of the service, you didn't lose it. We're still here, you're still here and let's continue to build that relationshiop. Let's find a way to continue to serve."
This is the first year of Freedom Fest, but organizers hope to keep it going annually.