Happy Thanksgiving

With everything going on in the world right now – terrorist attacks in Paris and Mali, a harrowing presidential campaign with no end in sight – it’s easy to forget that this is a time when we are supposed to count our blessings and give thanks. For years, the November season of giving thanks seems to have gotten lost as we segue from Turkey Day to Black Friday and the month-long buying frenzy leading up to Christmas.

For many, the traditions of Thanksgiving and Christmas include helping the less fortunate, and support from individuals makes a critical difference in the lives of people served by organizations like Volunteers of America. It helps us fill gaps in existing funding and 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.

A few years back, a coalition of charitable organizations rallied together to establish “GivingTuesday,” a national social media movement scheduled the Tuesday following Thanksgiving to encourage others to give back to their communities. Volunteers of America is a partner of the GivingTuesday effort, and I encourage others to get involved as well. Learn more about our GivingTuesday efforts.

As the holidays approach, we at Volunteers of America hope everyone will keep in mind the true spirit of the season, remember those who have experienced pain and loss, and focus on helping those in need. For more information on ways you can support Volunteers of America, please visit www.voa.org/Get-Involved/Give.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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



With the changing leaves and dipping temperatures, autumn symbolizes the periods of transition experienced by all of us. While we usually think of spring as a transitional time of rebirth, the fall can represent something of even greater substance. This is the traditional time of the harvest, when the fruits of our labors during the preceding year come to fruition. It’s also a time of preparation, as we move from the time of plenty into the barren winter. This is a great metaphor for life – you work hard and strengthen yourself so that you are better prepared during times of challenge and adversity.

At Volunteers of America, we help our clients navigate their own personal periods of transition and adversity, helping them harvest their inner strength and prepare for the challenges ahead. This is especially true in our correctional programs, which we have operated for more than a century. With programs including residential re-entry centers and monitored home release, we help those people leaving the correctional system to successfully transition back to society and work to change some of the personal problems that led to incarceration in the first place. And Volunteers of America’s work with the incarcerated doesn’t stop at the prison gate. Incarceration takes a significant toll on families, and especially children. Many of our programs aim to preserve the relationships between children and their incarcerated parents. For those leaving prison, we want to ensure they have stable and supportive homes where they can return to build productive lives and avoid future criminal activity. For their children, we want to end the cycle of intergenerational poverty and incarceration that plagues many families.

Everyone deserves a fresh start and a positive future, but preparing for success often requires a lot of hard work and guidance. In this season of change, when we look forward to the joy and blessings of the holidays, please support us in our work to move people in need from situations of adversity to productive and happy lives. Learn more about Volunteers of America’s programs to help the most vulnerable. 

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

Young Girl

We tend to imagine childhood as a time of carefree innocence, when youngsters play and go to school without the pressures and disappointments of adult life. Sadly, many children don’t enjoy this kind of idealized upbringing. For those in poverty, the harsh realities of the world become part of their day-to-day lives at an early age.

Annually, an estimated 2.5 million American children are homeless at some point in the year. Many more children have at least one parent incarcerated in jail or prison. Other families, while not homeless, are so poor that they struggle to provide food and other necessities to their children. Poverty is hard on anyone, but it is especially troubling when it affects children. Childhood builds the foundation for successful, healthy adult lives later on. If youngsters are deprived of a stable home life, an education, or a parent’s loving presence in their lives, they will sink deeper into a cycle of intergenerational poverty.

That’s why Volunteers of America offers so many programs to help children thrive at a young age, no matter what their circumstances might be. We take a holistic approach to care, knowing that children can’t thrive unless their parents and other family members receive the support they need to overcome their own troubles and provide a stable home environment.

We provide child care, Head Start and early literacy programs to help young children get a bright start. We serve school age children by providing before and after school programs, summer camps and mentoring. Leading to the start of the new school year each fall, many of our affiliates sponsor Operation Backpack drives to collect school supplies for low-income children to ensure that a lack of resources doesn’t stand in the way of a robust education.

I know it’s a cliché, but children truly are our future. If we help those in need early in life, we can avoid a number of devastating social ills later on … and that ultimately helps improve society for all of us. Learn more about Volunteers of America’s programs for children.

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

Hurricane Katrina

A decade ago, I had recently joined Volunteers of America as CEO of our Texas affiliate when Hurricane Katrina barreled toward the Gulf Coast. Hundreds of our clients in New Orleans, many of them elderly or physically disabled, had to be hastily evacuated to Houston for what at the time was expected to be a three- or four-day exile. Before the storm made landfall, we had no idea of the destruction that was soon to come, with levees breaking and flood waters covering much of New Orleans. Ultimately, as we now know, the exile was much longer. The last of our clients to return home left Texas in late October, two months after Hurricane Katrina moved through.

During those first few days and the two months that followed, the Volunteers of America family did what we always do in times of great need and crisis – we rallied together and worked day and night to help each other and support the vulnerable people we serve. Affiliates from Texas to Kentucky pitched in to house displaced clients, send supplies and provide their expertise. When hotels in Houston could no longer house our displaced New Orleans clients, we worked together to find new places for them to stay. We pooled our collective resources to contact family members and locate apartments and other temporary living arrangements.

While we always try to take a localized, program-by-program approach to serving our clients’ unique needs, there remains a great value to the network that comes from being part of a national organization the size of Volunteers of America. No matter the crisis at hand, no one in our organization is ever alone. This month, as we observe the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I’m reminded of the cooperation and dedication demonstrated by the Volunteers of America family during those harrowing days. These efforts demonstrated our people at their best, and I remain immensely proud to be part of such a wonderful group.

Learn more about Volunteers of America’s response during and after Hurricane Katrina.

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

Two Children

July 4th provides an opportunity every year to honor those serving in the military and reflect upon the sacrifices made to defend our country and its freedoms. While our thoughts naturally go to those currently serving, we often forget to think about those who returned home and fell on hard times.

Every night, thousands of veterans are homeless in cities all across the United States. It’s a national tragedy that those who served our country are now left forgotten and on the streets. For more than a century, Volunteers of America has been a leader in providing services to veterans in need, helping those who served as far back as the Civil War. Today, we are one of the largest providers of assistance to homeless vets, serving approximately 40,000 of these men and women each year. We pride ourselves not only on getting these folks off the streets, but also treating the underlying causes of their homelessness so they can live successful and independent lives over the long term. We’re also proud to work with a number of partners on this important mission, including a close relationship with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

But it’s not just homeless veterans who need our help. Children are another group who are disproportionately affected by homelessness. Summer is the time of year that many Volunteers of America affiliates are collecting school supplies for annual Operation Backpack campaigns. These campaigns ensure that all children, even those who are homeless, have the supplies they need to start school in the fall. Our largest campaign, in New York City, aims to collect enough supplies to provide backpacks to 20,000 children living in city homeless shelters.

I hope you’ll join me on our mission to ensure that no American, young or old, is forgotten and relegated to living life on the streets. Learn more about the work Volunteers of America does to help the most vulnerable among us. I also invite you to help support the mission of Operation Backpack.

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

American Flag at Half-MastWithout question, the recent church shootings in Charleston were unspeakably tragic. I hesitate to say there could ever be a “silver lining” to an event so heinous, but like the rest of the world I’ve been greatly inspired by the outpouring of love and support from the Charleston community and beyond directed toward the families of those murdered and the larger Mother Emanuel AME congregation. Most poignant, though, were the healing words spoken in court by family members of the fallen, directed at the shooter. As reported by the Washington Post: “One by one, those who chose to speak at a bond hearing did not turn to anger. Instead, while he remained impassive, they offered him forgiveness and said they were praying for his soul, even as they described the pain of their losses. ‘I forgive you,’ Nadine Collier, the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, said at the hearing, her voice breaking with emotion. ‘You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.’”

People experiencing extreme emotional trauma express their feelings in a wide variety of ways. Some respond with anger and dysfunctional or self-destructive behavior. Others turn to their faith and search for the spiritual strength to pull themselves out of the darkness. Forgiveness often can be hard to find – not only forgiveness for the one who caused the pain, but also for one’s self. Grieving people often feel a great deal of personal guilt. Could they have done more to prevent the tragedy, they wonder? Were things left unresolved with the person now departed? Why were they taken and not me?

This sort of “moral injury” is something we at Volunteers of America see all the time among people we serve. Typically, these are not relatives of people who were murdered, but rather veterans still recovering from the horrors of war, or caretakers for a parent suffering from Alzheimer’s who feel helpless to prevent their loved one’s suffering. It is often easier for these people to forgive others than to forgive themselves for all the things they are unable to do. In our efforts to care for America’s most vulnerable, we must focus not only on people’s immediate problems like homelessness or hunger, but also on the underlying spiritual challenges that prevent them from living happy, successful lives. It is only after they confront pain or trauma from the past, and learn to forgive themselves, that people can truly thrive.

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

Mother and DaughterThis time of year, Volunteers of America locations all over the country host special “I Remember Mama” luncheons to honor older women who, for a variety of reasons, are unable to spend Mother’s Day with their own children. These events have become beloved traditions for us, and speak to the true essence of our mission to uplift all people and help them live the most fulfilling, joyful lives possible. Mothers spend their lives putting the needs of others above their own, and I Remember Mama events provide an opportunity to let these women know that we care about them and appreciate their service.

While mothers represent pillars of love and support, we must never forget that often mothers need to be cared for, too. We see this at every level of service we offer at Volunteers of America. Many of our programs for low-income families focus on supporting single mothers with young children who need affordable housing, child care and other help. We know that housing forms the foundation for a successful life. By providing a safe and stable home, we help mothers to focus more time and attention on the care of their children.

Our programs for incarcerated women focus specifically on the relationship between these women and their children. We know that ending the cycle of intergenerational poverty depends in large part on maintaining and strengthening this bond between mother and child and ensuring that family connections don’t break down. Not only do children need care while their mothers are incarcerated, but the women need to know that they have a loving, nurturing household waiting for them once they return home. Volunteers of America is a leader nationally for innovative programs that strengthen whole communities by making sure that families affected by maternal incarceration don’t fall apart.

For older women, Volunteers of America is one of the leading providers of affordable housing and assisted living for low-income elderly people. After a lifetime spent caring for others, many women unfortunately find themselves alone without the resources available to provide for their own care. In addition to homes, we provide services like Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, which provide transportation, meals, access to health care and social interaction for seniors who might not have someone to provide this assistance.

At every stage of a mother’s life, we’re there to make sure she receives the same level of care and support that she provides to her own loved ones.

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


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