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VolunteersI’ve been greatly encouraged by the international outpouring of support that mobilized literally overnight following the recent earthquake in Nepal. Volunteers from all over the world have travelled – in some cases thousands of miles at the last minute – to areas devastated by the disaster, helping people they have never met and would otherwise never have a reason to know. This sort of inspiring scenario plays out after many high-profile natural disasters around the globe, from the tsunami in Thailand to the earthquake in Haiti. It’s only natural, after witnessing destruction and suffering in the news, to want to do something in that moment to help. But it’s not just victims of large-scale disasters in a far-off place who need our help. There are many people in our own communities who suffer and could benefit from an army of volunteers, but whose pain passes largely under the radar because it’s not part of any breaking news event.

The work we perform at Volunteers of America is centered on people who volunteer their hearts, minds and spirits to our mission of helping America’s most vulnerable. This includes two special groups of people – those who work for our organization as employees, and those unpaid people engaged in what we think of traditionally as “volunteer work.” Both groups working together are essential to the success of our programs and ensuring that our clients receive well-rounded care. Our volunteers also provide a much-needed connection to local communities. Volunteer involvement allows us to introduce the needs of our clients to those who might not know fully understand the extent of hunger or homelessness in their backyards – and in the process, make sure our clients don’t remain hidden and invisible.

Nationally, we depend on an army of more than 60,000 volunteers who offer their free time to support our programs nationwide. These volunteers perform work such as delivering meals; providing administrative support such as answering phones; collecting food or clothing; and providing professional services such as legal counsel, public relations, training and motivational speaking. These volunteers tend to remain out of the headlines because they are too busy serving those in need to seek attention.

I encourage you to look closely in your community and identify ways in which you can dedicate your own skills and interests toward helping others. Learn more about how to get involved with a Volunteers of America program near you.

Thank you for your support.

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

Lean In

In recent years, much has been said about “Lean In”, the 2013 book by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg that aims to offer “compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential.” The book, for the most part, directs its message of combining “professional achievement with personal fulfillment” toward women with professional jobs, higher levels of education and ample economic resources.

Unfortunately, in public discourse during the two years since the book’s publication, the “Lean In” mantra has often been applied to all women, regardless of their backgrounds or current situations, as a road map to living a better life. But sadly there is no one-size-fits-all answer to life’s problems, and too often well-intentioned people lose sight of the fact that their pathway to success won’t necessarily work for everyone. Many women barely have time to care for their families while working two low-paying jobs; spending time to build a group of peers for networking or support often becomes a luxury they can’t afford. Worries about salary negotiation or achieving gender-equity in the C-suite aren’t even on the agenda.

I say this not to dismiss messages like those presented in “Lean In”, but to place them in the proper context. Many Americans, both women and men, struggle simply with daily survival and fulfilling the most basic of needs. We can’t confine our thinking to just to those concerns in our immediate line of vision. What those of us sitting in a position of privilege think of as problems pale in comparison to the challenges faced by many of the women served by Volunteers of America every day – homelessness, substandard housing, incarceration, raising children alone with limited financial support. Leaning in means something much different to these women compared to those in other segments of our society.

This Women’s History Month (and throughout the year, as well), please keep in mind the needs of women and families who struggle with challenges many of us would find unimaginable. Learn more about Volunteers of America’s programs, including those benefiting women and families.

Thank you for your support.

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

love

We love to talk about love in our society, especially this time of year around Valentine’s Day. Discussions of the trappings of love – the flowers, the dinners, diamond jewelry commercials on TV – seem inescapable. A new trend on social media focuses on increasingly elaborate proposals featuring flash mobs, show choirs and even some national talk show hosts. From the popularity of romantic comedies to the over-the-top – and expensive – weddings favored by many couples, “love” receives a great deal of attention long after Valentine’s Day is over.

Unfortunately, these examples focus less on true love and more on romance … which might explain why so many marriages end in divorce. True love persists after the romance and excitement have ended. True love doesn’t necessarily come with happiness. It can mean a lot of pain, sadness and sacrifice – experiences that can’t be easily summed up in a greeting card or a cute YouTube video.

Over the past year, I’ve had the great privilege to get to know Kim Campbell, wife of the legendary Glen Campbell. Since Glen’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s in 2011, Kim has taken on the never-ending and often thankless role of caretaker for her husband. Her experiences reflect those of countless other caretakers supporting those with Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related diseases. These caretakers must express their love despite the fact that the memories and personality of their loved ones gradually slip away. Those with Alzheimer’s often can’t express their love or gratitude, and sometimes can’t even recognize the one taking care of them, but people like Kim carry on because of a bond that transcends superficial romantic gestures. This is the true meaning of love that gets ignored on Valentine’s Day.

And this love doesn’t just apply to married couples or between parent and children. At Volunteers of America, we employ a small army of caregivers who dedicate their professional lives to caring for others. They do this work out of a deep love and concern for other people, often when they could be doing something more lucrative and less emotionally taxing.

Thank you for your support.

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

New Year

I’ve never believed in New Year’s resolutions. The notion that the new year beings a new set of priorities implies a fleeting, fickle approach to life. Just because we’ve entered a new calendar year doesn’t mean that what is important has changed. So many goals in life are long-term projects, requiring a multi-year commitment with constant nurturing and maintenance. That’s why so many resolutions ultimately fail … if exercising or losing weight was truly a priority, this would be as true before January 1st as after. Simply rolling over to a new year doesn’t change who you are or what you find to be important in your core.

For well over a century, our core mission at Volunteers of America has remained steadfast … to help our country’s most vulnerable people so they can ultimately achieve a better life. Year in and year out, this mission never waivers. While the new year may provide an impetus to think about new and better ways to serve our clients, or to plan out strategies that address immediate challenges, the core of our work remains the same.

This is not to say that there are not a few areas of enhanced focus for Volunteers of America now that we’re in 2015. Important legislative priorities for us this year include health and human services, seniors, homelessness, veterans, housing tax credit changes, possible tax reform and the possible change and/or repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Tax reform and the Affordable Care Act are expected to be hot button issues at the beginning of the year.

One early success for the new year came on Jan. 12 when the House of Representatives approved a key piece of legislation benefiting veterans with mental illness, of which Volunteers of America has been a leading supporter – the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. The Senate Veterans Committee quickly followed suit with unanimous approval on Jan. 21. The legislation, named for a decorated Marine veteran who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and committed suicide at age 28, puts in place several policies including collaboration between Veterans Affairs and nonprofit mental health organizations; third-party evaluations of VA mental health and suicide prevention programs; creation of an expanded online resource center and outreach effort for veterans; a three-year pilot program to help veterans transitioning from active duty to civilian life access mental health care; and extension of the one-year eligibility period for certain combat veterans to obtain VA health benefits.

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. 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. Learn more about Volunteers of America’s national network of services and what you can do to support them.

Thank you for your support.

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

xmasThe spirit of Christmas, at least in recent years, has become divided between two seemingly contradictory priorities – the traditional spirit of giving and generosity, mixed with materialism and the search for bargains. We must remember that the true spirit of Christmas is not about buying the latest electronic gadget for 50 percent off. This is also a time when we traditionally 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 towards others by giving of one’s spirit, not just giving material things … or shopping to give to one’s self.

My hope this year is that the enthusiasm for shopping doesn’t come at the expense of philanthropy. It’s so easy for people to argue that after years of frugality and sacrifice they deserve to reward themselves and have a little fun. But we must remember that not everyone can see a light at the end of the economic tunnel. America’s most vulnerable continue to struggle and need our help.

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. Donations not only allow organizations like Volunteers of America to serve more people, but also to address the quality as well as the quantity of services. It is the factor that turns public housing into family homes, and makes the difference between simply keeping people alive and giving them a life.

Volunteers of America’s “Spirit of Giving” online catalog aimed at allowing people to shop while also being charitable. Each item in the catalog provides an opportunity to give hope to our neighbors in need, from families struggling to keep a roof over their heads to children without enough food to eat. Choose a gift in honor of someone special and we’ll help convey your generosity by sending a beautiful eCard to the honoree.

The traditions of Christmas include for many the generosity of charity for the less fortunate. As the holiday approaches, we at Volunteers of America hope everyone will remember the true spirit of Christmas and focus on helping those in need, rather than on the consumption and celebration that can overshadow the holiday. Learn more ways you can support Volunteers of America.

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

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

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