Matthew O'Dell may be in the coffee business, but he sees his success in conversations started rather than cups served.
The owner of Reveille Joe Coffee Company said he wanted to open his coffee shop in downtown Murfreesboro to help foster a community where anything is up for discussion.
"People have conversations over coffee all the time, and I wanted to be part of that conversation," he said.
O'Dell, 31, doesn't discount his voice in the process, even if it's sometimes behind the counter of the dimly lit shop.
Wherever he is in the shop, O'Dell gets to focus on the issues he's passionate about — namely, the veterans for whom he advocates. It was a natural extension for the man who had already served his country in Iraq and Afghanistan.
His voice supported the beneficial work of local organizations and called out the issues that former soldiers face in the community. It was raised as Murfreesboro and Rutherford County residents placed a greater focus veterans and the struggles they face.
For that catalyst's role in the community, O'Dell was named the Daily News Journal's Person of the Year.
O'Dell came to Murfreesboro after serving in the Marines between 2003 and 2007 and in the Army Reserves from 2009 to 2012. He was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan during his two terms of service.
He said he joined the Marines after a childhood of constant relocation to develop a sense and direction, much like his late grandfather, Joe Padgett.
"I knew I wanted to be something more than what I was and follow in my family's footsteps," he said.
O'Dell characterized his grandfather as a humble man who cared for his family and community, traits he wanted to mirror in his own life. After 57 moves, his home in Kentucky was the closest thing O'Dell had to a consistent home, he said.
After he returned to the U.S. from Afghanistan, O'Dell said he had issues of his own from his deployments he was forced to wrestle with. The post traumatic stress and depression that plagued many returning soldiers affected him, he said.
When he decided he wanted to open a business in downtown Murfreesboro, he said he wanted to start a conversation about the community of former soliders he honors and is part of. O'Dell also is serving a three-month stint as a community member on the Daily News Journal's editorial board in fall 2014.
It's a conversation some officials said was bound to occur as more troops returned from war.
"It's kind of odd that's it's taken this long for the community to engage with the veterans here," said Jeff Davidson, deputy to the Rutherford County mayor and a former Army colonel.
While trying to learn how to run a restaurant and operate payroll, he started to build the place on North Maple Street at a catalyst for conversation.
"You always see a meeting going on over there," said Mike Zelanak, the owner of the Maple Street Grill that operates down the street from Reveille Joe. "He does a lot more beyond the coffee shop than people realize."
Community leaders and stakeholders come into the downtown storefront for a cup of coffee, but can end up getting an earful about a new project or the need for a new initiative.
The shop is adorned with reminders of that military focus, whether by the memorial of the store's namesake or O'Dell's fatigues sitting on the chair where musicians perform in the storefront. Even the jackets around the coffee cups remind drinkers that 22 veterans commit suicide each day.
"It sort of brings it out to the front," Davidson said. "Having their stories out there helps people understand. It doesn't allow their stories to slip into the background."
O'Dell has tried his hand at several initiatives tied to veterans support and found a base of support he wasn't completely sure he would find. His first was Operation: Adopt a Hero. Reveille Joe customers were encouraged to fill stockings up with gifts and supplies that residents at the Tennessee State Veterans' Home could use.
He hoped there would be one stocking for each of the 140 residents at the home on Compton Road. He got 210.
"I realized that these people do want to be involved in the lives of our vets," he said. "I was proud that I moved back here. I was proud that I made this place my home."
The groundswell of support isn't unheard of, Zelenak said, especially for people and businesses who make it their business to improve the community.
"One thing about Murfreesboro," Zelenak said. "If you treat people right, they're going to come back to you. And Matt's done a good job of doing that."
Many of the issues O'Dell has raised have been tackled during 2014, whether he did additional legwork or not.
A veterans court geared to handle and find resources for former soldiers is slated to open in April, Davidson said. Local and regional organizations like Operation Stand Down Tennessee and the Warrior Workforce Initiative established roots in Rutherford County with plans to expand in future months.
O'Dell has helped move more veterans' families to Middle Tennessee and helped them connect into the community.
"I'm just glad I'm even a part of it, because there are so many people who should be thanked and should be recognized," he said over the hum of a cappichino machine.
O'Dell's shop is one of several veteran-owned businesses that have been established from soldiers returning from conflict. Others like Michael Burrows, H30 Aquatics owner and current Army Reserve captain, have also kept former soldiers in mind while building companies geared for a broader audience.
His business designed to provide water-based physical therapy has held a handful of veterans-focused events that have brought in local stakeholders and state officials like state Commissioner of Veterans Affairs Many-Bears Grinder.
Those who come to those events have a chance to raise their concerns about the issues they believe matter most.
"It shows any veteran is not alone, that they have a voice," Burrows said. "We help open the door for people to communicate with others supporting veterans."
These discussions, however, do not always bring up positive conversations. Dozens of homeless veterans are trying to survive in Rutherford County and a local VA hosptial had some of the longest reported wait times in the country.
The debates on how to fix those issues are where the coffee shop owner said the voices of the veterans still must be heard.
The best way to solve those and other issues, O'Dell said, is to have all of the organizations that have sprouted up in Rutherford County to work together with local government to meet a common goal.
O'Dell would be fine though, if he didn't lead the way on those reforms. He sees himself as less of a leader and more of a conversation starter, even an antagonist at times.
"That rock the wheel keeps hitting every time it turns around," O'Dell said.
For now, that rock is finding a level of stability that's providing support for his 21-month-old son Valor and his partner, Sandy Lampley, whom he said provides the stability in his own life.
"I'm finding a place I can raise my son and build my family," he said. "I'm proud Murfreesboro has become that."
That pride deepened this December during a second rendition of the Operation: Adopt a Hero stockings, he said.
This time, he was ready to take what the community was ready to give and equally prepared to put a cap on donations. This year, that number was 450.
Earlier this month, O'Dell brought those stockings to the former soliders living at the veterans in Murfreesboro and met up with those who could distribute the rest to the State Veterans' Homes in Knoxville and Humboldt.
Moments like those are ones that make Murfreesboro seem like home for O'Dell — his first in a long time.