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PovertySometimes the tasks we take on at Volunteers of America can feel like pushing a boulder up a mountain. We’ve made a name for ourselves by taking on challenges others see as too difficult or even impossible. Standing at the base of a mountain, faced with the lofty heights ahead, many turn around before they even begin their journey. Others, however, feel called to trek on, pushing themselves to venture where few others have gone before.

It’s no wonder that the Bible is filled with verses referencing mountains – both because of their majesty, and because of the physical and metaphorical challenges they pose; 1 Corinthians 13:2 seems especially appropriate to our work: If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

I was reminded again of our efforts to “move mountains” during Volunteers of America’s national conference in Denver this past June. Summits, just beyond one’s reach, are everywhere you turn in Colorado. But moving mountains is what our 16,000 staff members do everyday. They’re constantly striving to reach new heights when it comes to meeting the needs of children, low-income families, the elderly, the homeless, veterans, those with disabilities and the incarcerated.

During the conference, we were treated to screening of “I’ll Be Me,” a soon-to-be released documentary on country legend Glen Campbell’s battle with Alzheimer’s. Talk about an uphill battle, but one that he and his family have taken on with love and a great deal of humor. Over the next several months, Volunteers of America affiliates will be working with the film’s producers to host special screenings of the documentary in locations throughout the U.S. as a way to educate others about the work we do to help vulnerable seniors, including many battling Alzheimer’s and other memory ailments. We find inspiration from those words in I Corinthians … when it comes to helping those in need, all the knowledge in the world means nothing if you don’t pair it with love and compassion.

To learn more about the many ways Volunteers of America “moves mountains” to help the most vulnerable, please visit www.voa.org.

Working Together Towards a Common Goal for Veterans

Around Memorial Day, there’s always a renewed focus on our service men and women and the sacrifices made by America’s veterans. The focus has been especially intense this year, as Congress and the media turn their attention to the recent controversies concerning the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs. While blame has been directed at the VA, I’m reminded that it’s not just the government’s responsibility to help veterans in need, but everyone’s responsibility … public and private sectors, government, nonprofits and for-profit companies working together toward a common goal.

The men and women of America’s armed forces have fought for freedom in the world’s most dangerous places, from the beaches of Normandy to the mountains of Kandahar. When they return home after years spent in harm’s way, our veterans deserve a home of their own, the support of their loved ones and the ability to earn a decent living. Recent reports by the Veterans’ Administration and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development show that the number of veterans seeking emergency shelter or transitional housing continues to shrink. While it’s certainly encouraging, this drop is overshadowed by a looming catastrophe down the road. Middle-aged vets are moving off the streets, but younger vets from the current wars are only just now starting to demonstrate the mental and addiction disabilities that ultimately lead to homelessness. Many of these young vets remain ignored because their injuries are on the inside, in the form of PTSD and other mental traumas, without any visible disfigurement.

Women veterans have also been under-assisted and at risk historically. They often feel uncomfortable approaching traditionally male-dominated veterans’ organizations for help in times of crisis and suffer silently in the shadows.

Services to veterans should begin before someone reaches a moment of crisis. Volunteers of America is one of many private service providers working on the front lines, in collaboration with government agencies like the VA and HUD, to bring veterans off the streets and provide the help they need. In this age of budget cuts, it is crucial that we protect funding for private organizations that help veterans overcome poverty and the disabilities of battle today instead of waiting for them to sink into homelessness.

We encounter a wealth of opportunity every day to make a difference … one life at a time. Volunteers of America weaves a safety net around veterans that helps return them whole into mainstream society. Thousands of soldiers will be coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and we must anticipate their needs. Now is the time to tackle this challenge. Learn more about Volunteers of America’s programs for veterans at www.voa.org/Veterans.

- By Mike King, National President and CEO, Volunteers of America

Trailside I - Community Building

After five years, it seems the sluggish economy is starting to turn itself around. That’s the good news, and certainly benefits the vulnerable people who depend on Volunteers of America for assistance. But there’s also a flip side. With a recovering economy comes real estate prices that start to move upward … which is great if you’re a homeowner wanting to build equity, but not so great for those in need of affordable housing. This upward price pressure is especially evident in the rental markets of many American cities. Reduced home building in recent years, coupled with stricter mortgage lending practices, has led to a tremendous demand for rental properties, driving prices above the means of many lower income families.

At Volunteers of America, we believe decent affordable homes create the foundation for a successful life. We’re committed to building housing that not only supports our residents, but also fits the needs of the whole community. Volunteers of America is committed to providing low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities a decent and affordable place to live. With more than 17,300 units under our management, we are one of the largest providers of quality affordable housing in the country. Nationally, Volunteers of America owns and operates approximately 380 affordable housing communities from coast to coast and in Puerto Rico that are home to almost 25,000 people.

As demographics change and our nation’s senior population grows significantly, Volunteers of America is also a national leader in providing care and housing to these seniors. In the U.S. today, we are one of largest nonprofit providers of affordable senior housing, skilled nursing care and assisted living for seniors. The needs of our senior population are certain to become even more pressing in the coming decades, as the number of Americans age 65 and older is expected to double by the year 2030.

Our commitment to affordable rental housing – for families, seniors and many others – remains unwavering. For more information about Volunteers of America’s national portfolio of housing and related supportive services, please visit www.VolunteersofAmerica.org/housing.

- By Mike King, National President and CEO, Volunteers of America

maudandchildren

Women are the glue that holds families and communities together. This is a truth that we’ve observed time and time again in our work with vulnerable people. When times are tough, it is typically women who make sure that children and elderly family members receive the necessary care, that shelter is provided and that social services are sought. It is usually a woman—whether she’s a mother, a grandmother or a daughter—who is the first point of contact for Volunteers of America when a family needs our support. If we can reach a woman, we can usually help not only her, but the other people in her life as well.

One program where the keystone role of women in families has been especially evident is “Look Up and Hope,” which aims to maintain bonds between mother and child when the mother is incarcerated. Usually in these situations, it is the grandmother or an aunt who takes care of the children after the mother has entered prison. Often, especially with younger children, their mother can be a complete stranger to them when she returns to the home several years later, further straining an already delicate family dynamic. By maintaining stronger bonds throughout the mother’s time in prison, in addition to providing other services to the caregiver, we hope to end the cycle of intergenerational poverty that plagues many families and ultimately nurture stronger communities.

During Women’s History Month each March, we typically take the opportunity to celebrate Volunteers of America’s co-founder, Maud Booth— a woman many years ahead of her time who paved the way for other women aiming to change the world. But it’s equally important to keep in mind those women who battle every day just to change their small corner of the world, their families or their homes. These women rarely receive the recognition they deserve, but their contributions are essential to the success of those closest to them.

- By Mike King, National President and CEO, Volunteers of America

Young Girl

This time of year, notions of love get wrapped up in the trappings of Valentine’s Day, with its hearts and cupids and romantic proclamations. Unfortunately, all too often when people think of love, this is all that comes to mind … the superficial, rather than deeper and more long-lasting expressions of love. With love, it doesn’t matter so much what you say but rather what you do. Don’t tell me you love me; show me you love me, instead.

At Volunteers of America, we express our love for others by taking action to help society’s most vulnerable people. We house the poor and the homeless, provide treatment to those suffering from addiction or mental illness, and provide an extra helping hand to seniors who have no place else to turn.

As the scripture states in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.”

Sometimes the greatest expressions of love come from caring for others who are hard to love. Many of those Volunteers of America serves are people who some caregivers might not be willing or able to help. But true love doesn’t always come easy, and we don’t turn away when the task seems too difficult.

- By Mike King, National President and CEO, Volunteers of America

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As always, the New Year provides an opportunity to look ahead and envision what we would like to accomplish in the next 12 months. Like every year, we at Volunteers of America aim to help as many people as possible who need our services. But in the year ahead, we likely will need to find new and creative ways to do so with fewer resources.

While the economy continues to show some signs of improvement, we in the nonprofit world still struggle to provide more for less. Budget cuts at the state and federal levels in recent years, as well as a government shutdown in the fall, have left many of our programs across the country with significantly fewer resources going into 2014. In some cases, unfortunately, this has already resulted in layoffs or limits placed on the number of people we can serve.

On top of these existing budget challenges, we are also faced with the lingering possibility that proposed reforms to the federal tax code could result in the reduction or elimination of the charitable income tax deduction. These proposals have been shelved for the time being, but concerns remain that we might eventually experience reductions in private donations at the same time that we’re adjusting our funding strategy to depend less on government and more on the generosity of individual donors.

In this New Year’s period of renewal and rebirth, my goal is that Volunteers of America continues to be as a shining beacon of hope and support to those who need us. To ensure our future success, we cannot be shy or timid about sharing the news of our good works. We must be bold and remove our light from under the metaphorical bushel, not because of a misguided sense of pride, but because that’s what the people we help deserve.

For more information about Volunteers of America’s national network of services and what you can do to support them, please visit www.voa.org.

- By Mike King, National President and CEO, Volunteers of America

December Blog Post
Every year, starting in the middle of November, I’m frustrated and disappointed by the amount of attention given to Black Friday and the material aspects of Christmas. Most of the time, when people camped out in front of stores on Thanksgiving are interviewed about their motivations, they talk about buying things for themselves rather than using the holiday sales to buy gifts for others.

The spirit of Christmas is not about buying the latest electronic gadget or going to parties. This is a time when we reflect on those who may not be able to afford presents under the Christmas tree, or who will be separated from loved ones during the holiday. It is a time of generosity toward others by giving of one’s spirit, not just giving material things. This is a time when we hold our loved ones close and celebrate the blessings we have been given.

That’s not to say that many people don’t give generously of themselves, both financially and with their time and efforts, during this time to help others. But it’s also a shame that so many people wait until the Christmas season to demonstrate this spirit of generosity. Need knows no season, and the people we serve turn to us for help all 12 months of the year. While the economy shows signs of improvement and unemployment appears to be dropping, many Americans still struggle to see the light at the end of the economic tunnel. And these people will still need help come March or April, long after the Christmas season has passed.

The importance of donations from individuals can never be overstated. Philanthropy makes a critical difference in the lives of people we serve. It helps us fill gaps in existing funding to create new services in response to emerging needs. Our nation has a strong tradition of giving that has broadened access to health and human services, fostered an appreciation for our history and cultural heritage, advanced scientific and medical research, and supported a variety of other programs vital to the health of our nation.

During the Christmas season, or any time of year, we at Volunteers of America hope everyone remembers the true spirit of giving and focuses on helping those in need.

- By Mike King, National President and CEO, Volunteers of America

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