Veterans Share Rags to Riches Story with Students - WFLA News Channel 8

Veterans Share Rags to Riches Story with Students

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The New Directions Veterans Choir has played some pretty big stages in their day. The got a standing ovation from the judges on NBC's "America's Got Talent."

It's a moment of which choir director George Hill is very proud.

"I was watching it one day and I said, hey, we sound better than that," he recalled.

But it isn't the notoriety the group is after. Hill and the other members of New Directions are all veterans, and they've all spent years living on the streets. Hill is a veteran of the Marine Corps. He spent 12 years as a homeless man in the Los Angeles area.

He eventually found his way to an organization also called New Directions. Since 1992, it has helped veterans overcome homeless, mental illness and substance abuse problems. Hill remembers one of the employees starting the group back in 1998.

"He said, okay, you're going to be choir director.  So, I had to pick some people and we started singing," he said.

And they've been singing ever since. The group made a special stop at St. Peter Claver Catholic School in Tampa Monday morning. Their rendition of "Lean on Me" got the kids clapping.  Afterwards, they clamored for autographs.

"A lot of our kids can relate to the struggles these men have been through," said principal, Sister Maria Babatunde. "They all have different challenges in their own lives."

Hill hopes his visit helps inspire the students -- and lets them know they aren't alone.

"What we like to let them know is, don't fall into the same pitfalls we fell into," he said. "That's one of the things we have to let people know. You have to be able to lean on someone."


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