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Veteran's Day

This time of year, around Veterans’ Day, we often focus attention on those veterans in the most dire and shocking of situations … those who are homeless, or suffer from untreated PTSD, or are battling addictions. While the help we offer the most vulnerable veterans is very important, we also need to remember others whose problems remain largely in the shadows. These are the veterans who are not yet homeless, but may find themselves without homes if they don’t receive a helping hand. They are the young vets who return from war and battle with joblessness or depression. They haven’t reached the tipping point, but their lives are spiraling in a direction in which they could find themselves in crisis in five or 10 years. At that point, it might be too late to help them.

One program that has been greatly beneficial for veterans who need some additional help to avoid a future crisis situation has been the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, funded by the VA but administered by organizations like Volunteers of America. This program has helped us serve veterans like Hector Salinas, a Marine Corps veteran in Aurora, Colorado who has suffered a series of recent medical problems and was at risk of losing his home.

The past several years have been difficult for Hector and his wife DeeAnna. Chronic health problems and several stays in the hospital forced Hector to leave his construction job. He almost lost a leg to infection and still faces the possibility of more surgeries. DeeAnna has battled cancer since 2005, first in her lungs and eventually moving into her brain. Because neither could work, the family home faced imminent foreclosure. In the summer of 2013, Hector turned to Volunteers of America Colorado Branch looking for financial assistance through SSVF. The financial assistance helped fend off foreclosure, but didn’t provide for needed repairs to the house.

Because of Volunteers of America’s relationship with The Home Depot Foundation, a small army of Team Depot volunteers recently descended on the Salinas home to provide renovations inside and out. The Home Depot donated supplies to repair the Salinas home, including new windows for the entire house, landscaping, appliances, construction of a new backyard patio and fresh interior paint. The volunteer effort was part of The Home Depot Foundation’s “Celebration of Service,” an annual observance from Sept. 11 until Veterans Day during which store associates organize several volunteer hundred activities nationwide aimed at improving housing for veterans and their families.

There are countless veterans like Hector in America today – they may not live on the streets or suffer from visible wounds of war, but they need our help just the same. By lending a hand, they can avoid a much more serious crisis down the road and remain stable, active members of their communities. Learn more about Volunteers of America’s work with veterans.

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

The Many Faces of Volunteers of AmericaOne of Volunteers of America’s greatest strengths is our diversity. Our work touches a wide variety of needs, including homelessness, addiction, disability and incarceration. We work in many different types of communities, from inner-city neighborhoods to small towns to suburban areas where poverty at one time may have been unthinkable. We help families and singles alike, children and the frail elderly, people with disabilities and veterans struggling with reintegration to civilian life.

While adapting to the unique needs present in different parts of the country, our work has also expanded to focus on a diverse group of immigrant communities, such as Somali refugees living in Columbus, Ohio, or the Hmong people of Southeast Asia who now live in Minneapolis. For these people, their needs extend beyond matters related to poverty or housing to the more amorphous challenges that come from adapting to a new culture.

These are the many faces of Volunteers of America. This diversity makes it impossible to apply a one-size-fits-all solution to any of the problems we try to tackle. What makes our organization so unique, today and as far back as our founding in the late 19th century, is that we take a decentralized approach to helping those in need. Our people on the front lines design programs that meet the distinct needs of those in their local communities, but might not work other places where Volunteers of America has a presence. And that’s okay … there are sometimes as many diverse and creative ways to solve a problem as there are unique people seeking our help.

Only by taking a flexible approach that addresses local needs, big and small, can we make real progress toward helping America’s most vulnerable live prosperous, more successful lives. For more information about the many faces of Volunteers of America and our diverse variety of programs, please visit http://www.voa.org/services-we-provide.

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

Little Boy Client of Volunteers of America

Recently, Volunteers of America adopted a new tagline to describe our organization – “Helping America’s most vulnerable.” For an organization as large and diverse as ours, it’s never easy to decide on a simple statement that accurately describes the full scope of our service mission. It must be accurate and compelling without being too specific. With this new tagline, we acknowledge that we are focused specifically on the needs of people within the United States and we help vulnerable individuals in all their many forms, rather than focusing on just one group such as seniors or those experiencing homelessness. Often, the Americans we serve are those with which other charities hesitate to get involved.

Service to others should be part of everyone’s life. All over the country, wherever Volunteers of America has a presence, people from the local community are an important part of the work we do to help those who need us. For instance, many of our affiliates recently concluded another successful year of Operation Backpack, an annual initiative to collect school supplies and backpacks for homeless children heading back to school. In New York City, the largest of these efforts, an army of local volunteers and corporate sponsors helped collect a record 18,400 backpacks this year, which are now being distributed to 150 homeless shelters in the city.

Also underway is the annual Celebration of Service, a two-month effort to build and improve housing for homeless veterans. Volunteers of America has partnered with The Home Depot Foundation® at almost two dozen locations nationwide as part of this effort. Thousands of Team Depot associate volunteers will join others in their communities for projects like painting, landscaping and building recreation equipment, which will help improve the lives of veterans served by Volunteers of America. This year, The Home Depot Foundation plans to build or renovate more than 1,000 homes for veterans and their families, working with us and other partner nonprofit organizations.

We offer lot of ways for everyone to serve their communities by helping America’s most vulnerable. For more information about ways you can help Volunteers of America serve those in need, please visit www.voa.org/Get-Involved/Volunteer.

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

Veteran's Day

In the human service sector, much of our work today focuses on serving veterans struggling with homelessness, PTSD and other barriers that interfere with a successful return to civilian life. While this remains core to our effort, we at Volunteers of America are part of a rapidly growing movement that is engaging veterans to create solutions through opportunity.

For example, we have been piloting a program that leverages veterans as peer advocates who are specifically charged with dismantling barriers plaguing the health and human service sector. This program, the “Battle-Buddy-Bridge” or “B3″, trains, deploys and dispatches veterans as “battle buddies” who engage and provide resource navigation to fellow service members in distress.

While there are a number of peer-to-peer veteran programs throughout the country, Volunteers of America’s B3 efforts are unique because they leverage our well-established partnerships, seasoned expertise and extensive infrastructure. As such, Volunteers of America’s battle buddies have direct access to our network of services including: care coordination, case management, housing, training, employment placement, legal/benefits assistance, financial coaching, counseling and more.

This approach has already proven itself to be successful in transforming the lives of veterans like Nicola, a United States Air Force vet who spent 10 years battling for her VA benefits before she was paired with a battle buddy, Faye Lattimore-Shilling. “I had been told for years that I did not qualify for medical benefits because I was a reservist, ” said Nicola. This quickly changed, though, after Mrs. Shilling started to help Nicola navigate the VA hierarchy. “She verified my benefits … and took me to get my identification card. I could not believe that I was walking out of the office within 10 minutes after taking my picture. I had been given the runaround for years prior to her help! I cannot tell you how grateful I truly am.”

The program has also been tremendously therapeutic for the battle buddies themselves. “Helping other vets who are so much like me has given me more motivation than I’ve had since being in the Army,” said battle buddy John James. “Some days are surreal and I think ‘who am I to be sharing with them what to do when for so long I wouldn’t do it myself.’ I tell them that I was there too, and not very long ago was in the same place they are and it WILL get better. I will continue in the mode of helping and trying to make a difference in the world. I am now open to new adventures and have the confidence to move forward and not live life looking back.”

Veterans as a group are great allies of ours in the health and human services sector. Given this fact, Volunteers of America has long-term interest in creating more and more opportunities for veterans to work with and for us in pursuit of our mission to uplift America’s most vulnerable.

- By Jon Sherin Executive Vice President, Military Communities & Chief Medical Officer Volunteers of America

Glen Campbell I'll Be Me Movie

For as long as we’ve been in existence, Volunteers of America has served the needs of seniors who might have nowhere else to turn or require specialized care. This service can be as simple as an affordable place to live or a warm meal provided by Meals on Wheels volunteers. However, today we find more and more people turning to us because of the hands-on, highly-skilled nursing care we provide at locations throughout the country. This care covers a full continuum – from independent living apartments for active seniors, to around-the-clock care for those with memory issues or chronic health concerns – often provided on the same campus. This is an especially important field today as the Baby Boom generation ages and the number of Americans over the age of 65 is poised to skyrocket.

Increasingly, Volunteers of America has been called upon to include specialized services for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related conditions into our senior residences. Typically, these are set aside in special “neighborhoods” with special monitoring and staff trained in the care of elders with profound memory impairment.

As part of our ongoing work with people with Alzheimer’s and their families and caregivers, Volunteers of America is supporting the documentary feature film, “I’ll Be Me,” chronicling Glen Campbell’s Goodbye Tour. Three years ago, legendary musician Glen Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Campbell and his wife Kim went public with the diagnosis and announced that he and his family would embark on a Goodbye Tour to embrace their remaining time together. The tour would celebrate Campbell’s extraordinary musical gifts and while raising awareness about Alzheimer’s. “I’ll Be Me” follows the Campbell family on their journey as they focus on living in the present while preparing for the future.

Volunteers of America is an exclusive nonprofit sponsor in the production, marketing and distribution of the film. We’re also helping to develop educational and learning opportunities for families and care givers to learn more about dealing with Alzheimer’s. Volunteers of America will host screening events in many communities across the country specifically aimed at promoting the film’s core values of community, understanding, acceptance and the drive to educate people about adults whose lives are affected by Alzheimer’s.

Learn more about our work with seniors, including those affected by Alzheimer’s.

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

Senior Female Client

The old cliché goes that “it takes a village” to help those in need. This originally referred to children, but it could also apply to low-income families, homeless veterans, frail seniors or any of the other people served by an organization like Volunteers of America. There is no way that one organization, even a very large organization, could make a lasting difference in the lives of all these people by itself. Our efforts are enriched by combining expertise and resources (both financial and human) with a variety of partners to tackle problems collectively.

Volunteers of America depends on a number of partners, both nationally and at our local affiliates, to amplify our efforts. We work closely with The Home Depot® Foundation to provide supportive housing to homeless veterans and their families. Through the Team Depot initiative, associates from the company’s stores have become a supplemental workforce across the country helping to improve housing in addition to providing donated supplies. Another partner, CBS EcoMedia®, has also provided volunteers and other resources to make Volunteers of America housing more environmentally friendly while also more comfortable and welcoming for residents. One of our oldest national partnerships, with the Major League Baseball Players Trust, has inspired more than 65,000 high school students to volunteer in their communities since 2002, helping over 205,000 people in need.

And it’s not just large corporations that support our work. We are always looking for local community partners to help with product donations, financial support, volunteer engagement and raising awareness. Many of our clients would not receive the help they need without the involvement of these valued partners. To learn more about how community and corporate partners support the work of Volunteers of America, as well as ways to get involved, visit http://www.voa.org/Get-Involved/Be-a-Partner.

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

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.

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

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