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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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For many of us without direct family ties to the military, Veterans Day becomes a time for patriotic observance and general “support for our troops,” but often without the personal, emotional understanding for the experiences of our returning military personnel. Recently, Barbara Banaszynski, who oversees Volunteers of America’s programs for homeless veterans, wrote a letter that was published in USA Today on Veterans Day. The letter beautifully articulated the experiences of countless military families … Barbara’s son served multiple tours in Iraq, and she has a long family connection to the military.

The letter read in part: “A few days ago, I went in search of the grave of my first cousin who was buried with full military honors at Arlington cemetery. I remember him from our childhood as tall, handsome and athletic and a basketball player on his high school team and college team. After college we drifted apart. He went in to the military, me to graduate school. At periodic family gatherings, it would be said that he wasn’t doing well and drifting off to other parts of the country. He suffered several failed marriages and then finally an early death from complications of an organ transplant. Now I know that his life post-Vietnam was rocky and he likely suffered from PTSD and self medicated to cope with his demons. I wish that I had not been so unaware and so busy with my own life that I had taken the time to reach out to my cousin and now it’s too late.

“As we approach Veterans Day, it is not too late for all of us to extend a hand to the men and women returning from 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. We can do more than honor their service by clapping our hands in the airport. We can extend our hand in friendship and assistance. We can hire these experienced men and women in our businesses and welcome them into our neighborhoods. We can offer assistance to them in enhancing their careers as they have put their careers on hold to protect us. We can urge our government to continue to provide extensive supports and services for those veterans forever changed by their military service.”

Unfortunately, many of the veterans Volunteers of America serves today share experiences similar to those of Barbara’s cousin. It’s our goal to help each of them overcome the personal challenges they face and live successful lives once they return home. They served us, and now we serve them.

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

Little Boy Client of Volunteers of America

Last year, Volunteers of America launched a new marketing campaign aimed at raising awareness for our work and the people we serve. The concept for the advertising was simple … basic portrait photos of our clients accompanied by a brief personal letter expressing thanks for the help they received to overcome a particular problem in their lives. The end result proved to be unexpectedly powerful by simply allowing the faces of the people in our programs to tell the story of our work.

When we talk about the 2.5 million people served by Volunteers of America each year, or other comprehensive data points, what gets lost in those big numbers is that each of those people is an individual with his or her own unique experiences and life challenges. It’s important sometimes to stop and focus on the face of each individual rather than the big picture. Our organization is a patchwork of many different clients, each with different challenges to overcome but all searching for a path to the same destination – a stronger, happier, healthier life. It’s important that our programs reflect that diversity and we avoid a one size fits all approach to service.

This focus on the individual extends to the people who work for us, as well. The quality of service provided by Volunteers of America is only as good as the quality of our 16,000 employees. Each of us brings a different set of skills and gifts that we share with our clients. In some cases, our clients ultimately become our employees and use their personal experiences to help others struggling with the same problems they themselves have overcome. Witnessing that full-circle transformation, from someone in need to someone who gives of themselves to help others, is especially inspiring.

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

Home Depot Foundation Transforming Female Veterans Housing

Home Depot Foundation transforming our Los Angeles’ office’s Home for Female Veterans & their kids

When Volunteers of America was first founded more than a century ago, we defined ourselves as God’s Christian volunteers, going out into the world like a militia to save souls and uplift the lives of the most needy.  Today, the pseudo-military themes of our organization have long been relegated to history but the notion that we are all called into service to help others remains very much alive.

Service, to us, means more than just “volunteering” as most people think of it today … occasional community service activities performed here and there in one’s spare time. Service is a lifelong, often professional pursuit aimed at solving long-term and deeply-rooted problems.

Starting September 11th and continuing until Veterans’ Day, Volunteers of America and our partners at The Home Depot Foundation have joined together for “Celebration of Service,” a two-month series of projects nationwide to help build or repair homes for America’s veterans and their families.  This is the third year we’ve participated in Celebration of Service, which we kicked off earlier this month with a project in Los Angeles to help homeless women vets and their children.  Similar events are planned in Baton Rouge, Florida and beyond. This is part of our ongoing organizational service to veterans, many of them homeless or struggling with challenges like addiction or mental illness.  They served us by protecting our country, and now we serve them in return.

But we don’t just stop with veterans.  Service to us means helping everyone in a community who might be struggling, from low-income families and children to frail seniors or those with disabilities.  By serving all people, we build stronger communities that ultimately benefit everyone.

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

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