Navy Veteran Kenneth Gray

The Art of Stained Glass

Broken. That one word describes the state that a staggering number of our country’s heroes return home in. With physical, mental, and economic obstacles standing in their way, the lives of our Veterans are too often shattered into jagged, seemingly dangerous shards: homelessness, unemployment, depression, PTSD.

But broken does not mean destroyed forever. Just ask Ken, a stained glass artist. On a sunny morning at Windsor Veterans Village, the signature white socks and sandals of this eighty-year-old Navy Veteran begin to shuffle across the wooden floors of his spacious home.

“When my children were young and small,” Ken explains with a soft, slow voice, “I went to a garage sale and someone was selling pieces and scraps. I took the pieces home and started trying to figure out how to make it…” Ken’s gentle eyes peer through his glasses towards an object beneath his windowsill. The “it” he is referring to is a fluorescent image made from stained glass of two parrots resting in a tree. A stunning masterpiece that Ken himself created.

A Pane of Glass

A piece of stained glass art begins its journey as a seemingly standard pane of glass.

But when Ken himself was a small child, tragedy struck his family. During the WW2 Battle of Iwo Jima, the two year old’s father was killed in action. “I was what they call a gold star child. I grew up without a dad in the days when that was considered taboo…” the Navy Veteran’s hands begin to shake beneath his oversized leather jacket. “That’s one of the reasons I joined the service.”

During the height of the Cold War, Ken bravely served on board the USS Lake Champlain, making it a dangerous time to join the Navy. After his service, Ken returned home in 1964, and started a family in Santa Monica, California. “When I grew up with no Dad and no Mom for most of my life…” Ken clears his throat. “My children and my grandkids, they mean everything.” And he means it. Ken sent all three of his daughters to college while working as a salesman and doing side jobs when time permitted… such as making stained glass.

Navy Veteran Kenneth Gray's stained glass plane

Broken Glass

Whether intentionally or not, larger panes of glass often find themselves shattered into smaller pieces that barely resemble their former selves.

After 53 years of marriage, Ken’s wife fell down the stairs and broke her hip. The couple soon learned that the issues stemming from the fall impacted more than just her body. ‘5150’ is a code used to describe an adult experiencing a mental crisis. This gives professionals the right to hold the patient against their will for up to 72 hours.

“When she got back up…” Ken’s small, blue eyes drop. “She was not the same person.” The Navy Veteran gingerly folds his wrinkled hands, one of which still dons his wedding ring, on top of a table outside his home. While Ken’s wife is still alive, the dynamic of their relationship has changed, and they are no longer together. He gave his home to his wife and had no place to go.

Ken felt like his life had shattered into pieces. In his 70s, the Navy Veteran found himself homeless on the Santa Rosa streets. “To be homeless at that age is…” Ken’s frail shoulders hunch over. He starts to stare down at the dirt beneath his sandals. “Extremely hard on someone.”

Navy Veteran Kenneth Gray's new home

Putting the Pieces Together

After the shards from a larger pane are broken off, the stained glass artist begins the delicate process of helping the pieces find their beauty again.

The VA estimates that there are more than 33,000 homeless Veterans in the United States, more than 10% of the adult homeless population. “These guys are living on social security or with no income at all…” Ken exclaims, remembering the stories of other homeless Vets he knew. “What do you do?”

Another homeless Veteran mentioned to Ken that he’d heard about an organization called Nation’s Finest. With a mission to create better lives for Veterans, the non-profit provides those from all branches of the military and their families with a comprehensive approach to housing, health, and employment. The Navy hero took a leap of faith and reached out for help.

Windsor Veterans Village is a 60-unit permanent supportive housing community founded by Nation’s Finest and the Veterans Housing Development Corporation (VHDC), a housing subsidiary of Nation’s Finest focused exclusively on affordable housing for Vets. The space was created for low income Veterans, disabled Veterans, and their families. Ken went in and was offered one of their beautiful new residential units.

“The day that I walked in here, I was blown away.” The faded brim of Ken’s USS Lake Champlain hat tilts up as he admires the peaceful village around him. Lush foliage lines the sidewalks and residential units throughout the village. Birds chirp back and forth between the trees. An older couple is out for a stroll along the well-maintained walkways. “It was so beautiful. It was so roomy. I was blessed and I felt it in my heart.” The Navy Veteran rests a gentle hand on his jacket. “The VA and Nation’s Finest helped me tremendously.”

Solidifying the Artwork

Once arranged into the pattern that will soon become a work of stained glass art, the shards are glazed and glued into their completed positions.

The Windsor Veterans Village space has continued to surprise Ken throughout his time as a resident. “When Chris (Johnson, Nation’s Finest CEO) was first helping design this place, they thought about everything… green technology, landscaping, all of that… it’s totally unreal.” There are well documented benefits to living in a space like Windsor Veterans Village that stretch beyond protection from the elements. Having onsite supportive services like health care and mental health treatment help heal the body and mind. Having financial stability eases the burden of worry that weighs down on those like Ken that didn’t have a place to call home.

But Ken sees Windsor Veterans Village as more than just a physical place as well. The Veteran tells the story of Thursday evenings throughout the summer, when Windsor hosts concerts on the local green. A close-knit group of Veterans and their families walk down every week in their matching t-shirts. Shirts that Ken himself had the idea to create. Ken’s altruism is well known around Windsor. He is now “unofficially officially” called the mayor of Windsor Veterans Village, where he brings kindness and positivity to those around him every day. “I have established a community within a community… it’s extremely helpful to all of us.”

Navy Veteran Kenneth Gray Dancing


Stained glass artwork is often positioned close to light. When light passes through the carefully crafted piece of art, the vibrant colors and grooves that the glass has rediscovered throughout its journey dazzle those around it.

In the case of Ken’s artwork, this might be next to his window, which looks out over the greenery beneath his unit. Or encasing the light fixtures throughout his home. Or with his children and grandchildren, who he never wanted to ask for help, and is now able to keep in better contact with.

“Without this place, I would have met up with them at a coffee shop or at the market. It wasn’t home.” A wrinkled smile etches its way across Ken’s face. “I have a home now.”

Help Us Help Veterans Like Ken

Support Veterans like Ken and their families by donating to Nation’s Finest. Your contribution helps us provide comprehensive housing, health, and employment solutions to help Veterans rebuild their lives and find hope once again. Join us in honoring their service and creating a brighter future for our country’s heroes. Make a donation today at