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Veterans may benefit from home's rebirth

October 12, 2012 12:10 am


Betty Tyson rests at the Village of Emmaus in King George. Emmaus started in the 1960s as a refuge for people having hard times and for women just out of prison. lo101212emmaus2.jpg

Volunteers Jeff Allen (left), Allen Miller and John Thomas work to restore the building. lo101212emmaus1.jpg

Betty Tyson has lived and worked at the Village of Emmaus in King George on and off for the past 45 years. Emmaus has always been a refuge, and now she is trying to raise money to have it restored as a home for wounded warriors. lo101212emmaus4.jpg

Betty Tyson is trying to raise money to have the Village of Emmaus in King George, a former school, restored.


Betty Tyson looks at peeling paint and drooping gutters, fences that have fallen down and weeds that have grown up, and knows there's a lot of work to be done at the Village of Emmaus.

But the woman who helped open the King George County home 45 years ago--to pregnant girls and homeless women who didn't have anywhere to go--also knows what happens when people have faith.

"I call it a loaves and fishes ministry," she said, referring to the story of Jesus multiplying the lunch of one boy so that it fed thousands. "We've always had just a little, and we've had it go a long way."

Tyson, her husband, Earl, and her parents, the Rev. William Howard and Nelle Benfield, started the Emmaus ministry in 1967. Betty Tyson estimated they housed thousands over the years.

Sometimes, they used the retirement check her father got from the Methodist church or the money her husband made as an evangelist to buy groceries and pay the mortgage on the home built in the 1840s.

Tyson, 78, and the only founder still alive, is relying on her faith once more to open the next chapter in Emmaus' history.

She'd like to offer the home and 65-acre property as a refuge for wounded warriors. She wants to focus on those who don't have any family support and need a place to heal.

And this time, Tyson is getting help from others. Volunteers at the Burke Community Church in Northern Virginia, who heard about her plans, have rolled up their sleeves and taken out hammers and paint rollers.

"What God has laid on her heart is exactly what we're all about," said Nace Lanier, the discipleship pastor at Burke. "We feel called to work alongside her and develop a place where veterans can get some healing, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually."


Tyson's next focus--on wounded veterans--may sound drastically different from the previous ministry that helped women just out of prison or children without families.

But in reality, she believes there's not much difference.

"They're all just people who need love and a home," said Tyson, whose salt-and-pepper hair forms a long braid that runs down her back. "I have always had a heart for people in our society who are kind of forgotten."

That's why she and her husband and parents bought the property, formerly known as Shelbourne. They barely had a penny to their names, but the former owner had done renovations and upgrades so he could open a boys' home on the property.

His plans lasted only six months, and he wanted the Tysons and others to have the place for their mission.

The Tysons borrowed money to cover the contract fees, then took over the mortgage of the estate.

They and the Benfields also formed a nonprofit group called Christian Community Inc., which still owns the property. Tyson is the executive director.

Only once in its 45-year history did Emmaus get federal money: a grant to help buy books and other equipment for the boarding school the ministry established. At other times, Emmaus survived on donations from churches or individuals who heard about the King George program.

"Probably three-fourths of those people aren't still on this earth," Tyson said.

The property was cared for regularly until about 10 years ago, when Tyson's husband became ill. She cared for him for 8 years, until he became a complete invalid. She set up a hospital bed on the first floor of the house, and spent time at Emmaus when she wasn't in the family's home in Scottsville.

After her husband died in 2010, she took care of her mother, who passed away at age 100, in January.

"I'm the last one, so I've had a lot of sad and lonely days here," she said, looking out the back porch into the woods. "But this property has a wonderful legacy."


Dan Rieck, the leader of the men's ministry at the Burke church, heard about some of that legacy through a mutual acquaintance of his and Tyson's. Rieck is a retired Navy captain who wanted to work with veterans, particularly those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

He visited Emmaus and invited Tyson to speak at the men's breakfast this spring. She gave a history of the ministry and her vision for the future.

"It's hard not to get on board with her, she sort of radiates a positive love," said Michael Dickerson, a Burke church member who has served as project coordinator. "There were a number of us who stood up that day and said, 'We're going to help you.' "

The church is replete with military people, both active and retired.

"You can't chuck a rock without hitting someone in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard," Dickerson said.

Since that spring meeting, about 40 people religiously have made the 75-minute drive from Burke to King George every Saturday.

The volunteers have focused on repairing the cottage, a 100-year-old building beside the main house. They've cleaned and painted the four bedrooms, which are designed to house three veterans and perhaps a chaplain or counselor.

They've paid for all the supplies themselves, including a new heating and air-conditioning system, Tyson said.

"It's a beautiful place, it's been rundown, and we're about bringing it back to what it was," Lanier said. "It's almost the same vision of what we want for vets."


Tyson hasn't hammered out the details of the program which she hopes to establish, after the cottage is livable. She hopes veterans will move in, help with the work and offer their ideas.

She foresees an organic farm operation as well as vineyards, and maybe woodworking and cheese-making. The property is set up for all those enterprises, she said.

So far, the work by the Burke volunteers has focused on the cottage and not the main house. Because of its history, she'd like preservationists and architects to be involved with the plan to restore it.

She knows she'll have to pay for some services and hopes the volunteer resources will continue.

"I'm like a juggler here," she said, talking one minute about furnace work that's needed and another about plans to have more veterans on her nonprofit board. "But because of my age, I have to keep things moving."

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

THE NAME: In the 24th chapter of Luke, followers of Jesus were discussing his crucifixion as they walked to a village named Emmaus. Jesus joined them, but did not reveal himself to them until they broke bread together, and his followers understood he'd been resurrected. Betty Tyson sees the same symbolism at the Village of Emmaus in King George County. "We always called this the road to a new beginning," she said. A HISTORY of the King George ministry is available at THOSE INTERESTED in helping with the project can contact Betty Tyson at 540/621-1258 or btyson@villageofemmaus .org.

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