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

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


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