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Archive for September, 2012

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Photo from June 1954: Glen at age one and his mom. She took care of him and now he cares for her. Funny how that works out.

At age 70, my mother took great pride in her independence. She loved her apartment and friends and was enjoying her “golden years” in Maine. Suddenly and unexpectedly, with one serious hospitalization, my mother lost her independence and became totally dependent on me. As her only child, I did my best to take charge of the situation, but I was not prepared and had no experience in this area.

After her condition stabilized, I was told that she would be moved to 24/7 care and a specific nursing home was recommended by the hospital. Her condition meant that she would never be able to go back to her home. This was a devastating blow for her and sent her into a deep depression. The situation was now a crisis for both of us. I had to make several critical decisions with basically no information or support. These included:

  • Was this the right nursing home that provided quality care?
  • What were the costs and how would they be paid for?
  • Did she have Medicare and what did it cover?
  • How much money did my mother have and was it enough?
  • How long would she be in the nursing home so I could line up another place for her to live?
  • And, when she came home, what kind of care would she need and how would it be provided?

The list seemed endless and was totally overwhelming to me. She qualified for Volunteers of America housing but I had no knowledge that it existed. It was all too much, too fast and I ended up in the hospital myself. Nobody should have to go through this. There has to be a better way! I swore that day that I would help make it easier for others to navigate this time of great change and crisis by sharing my own experience and educating as many people as possible about how important it is to prepare beforehand for the care of aging loved ones and the wonderful aging options Volunteers of America offers.

The Program of All-Inclusive Care (PACE) can provide the care and support that loved ones need. With growing interest from our affiliates, Aging with Options™ is committed to expanding this program nationally. We are excited that by the beginning of the New Year, we will have opened the Senior CommUnity Care PACE program in the Durham, N.C., area. By having more options for elderly care, we are helping our seniors maintain the dignity and independence they want and deserve.

– By Glenn Michaels, Director of Marketing, Communications and Community Engagement for Volunteers of America Northern New England

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Home Depot Volunteers Helping at a Veterans Park

One of the best parts of my job is the instant gratification I receive from meeting the people whose lives we work to transform every day. An administrative job, especially a top-level one, can often be a sterile, detached experience, so it’s always a great joy for me to visit our programs and witness the life-changing service being performed by thousands of Volunteers of America employees.

But this kind of work need not be only a full-time job. Service to others should be part of everyone’s life, whenever they can find the time to fit it in. 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 13,000 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 a dozen locations nationwide as part of this effort. Hundreds 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.

We’re always on the lookout for new ideas to help even more people in need. At the beginning of October, Volunteers of America will launch a new application on our national Facebook page offering members of the public the opportunity to submit ideas to serve veterans in their own communities. Our vets are returning home in record numbers and face unique challenges in every region of the country. We need to give back, and you have the power to help a vet or vets in your area. We ask you to please share your ideas for how you’ll help veterans. By contributing to this important conversation, you might get the chance to receive $1,000 to make your idea reality.

To submit an idea starting in early October, visit www.facebook.com/VolOfAmerica. For more information about other 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

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Recently, I spent a couple of hours with Maine Public Radio interviewing veterans at our two programs for homeless veterans in Saco and Biddeford. We have a saying that our goal is to help bring our veterans “All The Way Home™” and that really hit home with me listening to the veterans’ stories.

This was not an easy experience, but I would not have traded it for anything. One of the veterans, who has been with the Huot House the longest (about a year), was on the USS Cole when it was blown up by terrorists in the Gulf almost 11 years ago. The other is our newest veteran. He tried to kill himself by drinking himself to death. He has a strong belief in God and did not want to commit suicide so he could go to heaven. How could we have gone so wrong as a country to let these veterans down? Thank God for our teams at both houses who have helped begin to turn these lives around with their kindness, their compassion and their deep love for those in need. The veterans’ courage and determination is also a huge factor in their own success.

The other day, I was shocked by this quote and statistic from NPR News: “by 2009, while the United States was engaged in two separate wars, more soldiers died from suicide, drugs and alcohol than died by the hand of the enemy.” After today, unfortunately, I find that easy to believe.

Imagine yourself at age 22…standing at your bunk on the USS Cole…and you are blown into the air by an explosion. “Joe” landed on his feet and immediately ran up to the deck to see what had happened. Since they were in port for fueling, he thought that was what must have caused the explosion. As he reached the floor below the main deck, he opened the door to the stairway. To his surprise, he looked down and saw water. Two terrorists had set off explosives on their raft and blown a huge hole in the Cole’s hull. He turned around and went downstairs to see how he could help with the wounded and to stop the flow of water rushing into the ship.

“At this time, one’s training just takes over. While recovering from the effects of the blast, the crew was busy doing their duty to save their family members (that’s what veterans call each other) and their ship. We were not going to let the ship sink. She was too well built and we were a great crew.” They saved the ship. Unfortunately, 17 sailors were not as lucky…and the 18th sailor recently died in his sleep from related anxiety. More than 30 sailors were injured. Joe was in the midst of this carnage as they struggled to regain control of the Cole.

Joe stayed with the ship, which could not move as a result of the damage. It was later hauled back to the United States for repair. Joe went on to another ship and used his experience from this tragic event to help his new family develop a plan to address a similar disaster, should it happen in the future. Lucky for the crew, they had the plan because they ended up using it shortly after it was implemented. “I was really proud that I could help and make a difference,” Joe said.

After four years, Joe left the Navy. He moved to Maine with his wife and family and took a job at the Kittery Shipyard. However, he really never fully returned home. Thoughts about his experience on the Cole surfaced every day. Some were worse than others. During the interview, he said, “I keep asking myself why was I saved and others died?” I didn’t have an answer and nobody could give one to me. I couldn’t shake this and other thoughts from my mind. After Joe’s project was completed at the yard, he was let go. Now without a job and constantly reliving his experience on the Cole, his marriage soon fell apart. His wife had a place to stay with her family who lived locally. Joe had nowhere to go…no friends or family in Maine. “I was determined that I wasn’t going to be homeless. One way or another I would find a place to stay. I was very fortunate to find the Huot House.”

When you talk with all of the veterans at the Huot House, they tell you how important it is to be surrounded by other veterans. Joe said, “It is a huge part of the healing process. People here understand. Nobody understands what we have been through except another veteran. They have been there too.” The Huot team worked with Joe to put together a plan that was designed to use his strengths and the appropriate resources to help bring him “All The Way Home”.

“They help coordinate my care and are always there to help. I still address my past every day…but it is getting better. I have learned a lot about myself and can see hope for the future. It is still difficult for me to talk about this as you can tell. What I find amazing is that there are people who have not heard about the Cole and those who gave their lives to help keep us free. What were they doing that day?”

I told Joe how lucky we were to be able to do this work. I also said how proud I was of our executive team and a local bank who would not give up on this project. Their courage and conviction and a lot of generosity from individuals and groups made this program possible. I kept hearing “It is just the right thing to do!” And, after today, there is no question in my mind about that. As the interview finished, I stood up and shook Joe’s hand. We looked each other in the eye and it took everything I had to keep tears out of mine. At the same time I was beaming inside. The team here had made a huge difference. Everyone who helped make this project a reality has made a difference.

I heard Steve Jobs tell Sanford graduates that “I look in the mirror every morning and ask myself, ‘do I love what I am going to be doing today?’ He followed by saying, “If not, I need to get a different job.” How can you not love what you are doing when you change lives as we do?  Congratulations to everyone involved in this project. I was deeply moved and could not be prouder to be part of this very unique organization. Welcome Home Joe!

– By Glenn Michaels, Director of Marketing, Communications and Community Engagement for Volunteers of America Northern New England

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