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Archive for October, 2012

ImageIt used to be, if you wanted to draw attention a grass-roots cause, you had to go out canvassing door to door or stand on a street corner. I used to do this as a child with my father in Dallas, campaigning for political candidates in the 1960s.

But today, the explosion of social media has changed forever the ways people rally support for a cause. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and a long list of other online platforms (even this newsletter) provide virtual street corners where organizations like Volunteers of America can share the good news of our work and encourage others to get involved. That’s not to say face-to-face interactions don’t still have value, but there are only so many people you can meet in person.

To put things in perspective … Volunteers of America has more than 6,700 “likes” today on Facebook, up from just a few hundred three years ago. We have more than 2,300 followers on Twitter and our videos on YouTube had been viewed more than 53,000 times as of September 2012. Our website logs more than 125,000 page views a month.

These numbers represent a powerful audience that we didn’t have even five years ago. But with this new audience, we also have an obligation to make sure as many of our social media “friends” as possible are engaged in conversation and taking actions that contribute to our work. Those actions can be as simple as signing an online petition to help stop Alzheimer’s disease, or posting photos from volunteer activities as part of our partnership with The Home Depot Foundation. Or they can be more complex, like submitting ideas to help veterans in local communities around the country. As you’ll see in this month’s eSpirit, Volunteers of America launched a new application on our national Facebook page offering the public the opportunity to share ideas for helping veterans, with the chance for one person to receive $1,000 to make that idea a reality.

The power of social media has had a profound effect on the ways we share our stories with others. And instead of our audience passively reading about our clients or accomplishments, they now can take part our work in ways we never dreamed possible even a few years ago. To submit an idea to help veterans in your community, visit www.facebook.com/VolOfAmerica. Or join us on our many other social media channels including: www.twitter.com/vol_of_america;  www.youtube.com/VolofAmerica and www.flickr.com/photos/volunteersofamerica.

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

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After the Uniform - What is Your Idea to Help Veterans

Highly trained engineers and infantrymen, artillery specialists and pilots, mechanics and nurses — the men and women of America’s armed forces have fought for freedom in the world’s most dangerous places, from the beaches of Normandy to the mountains of Kandahar. When they return home after years spent in harm’s way, our veterans deserve a home of their own, the support of their loved ones and the ability to earn a decent living. Yet for tens of thousands of veterans, this is a dream deferred.

After multiple deployments, veterans are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with a host of mental and physical injuries. Too many follow a downward trajectory that ends in homelessness. The statistics are staggering and shocking:

  • 1 in 5 homeless Americans is a veteran
  • 67, 495 veterans are homeless on any given night
  • The number of homeless Vietnam-era veterans is greater than the number of service persons who died during that war

Projections put more than 1 million more veterans at risk for homelessness. At the same time, older veterans need help to stay in their homes as they age.

Volunteers of America has been serving America’s veterans since World War I.  We offer services such as family support, health care, housing and homeless shelters to veterans in 46 cities in 20 states, meeting America’s veterans where they are. We hand out sleeping bags and snow boots in the Northern Rockies and scout the Everglades for veterans living in abandoned boats, giving veterans what they need, from flu shots and HIV testing to transitional housing and job training.

We know from experience that the issues our returned veterans face are unique from community to community. But while the issues are daunting, they are not insurmountable. And you can help. How? Tell us your idea to help the veterans who served and protected us.

There are already amazing examples of neighbors coming together to help veterans in their communities. This young Michigan resident recently set aside a career in law to pursue a new calling — helping local veterans. He began a program to place returned soldiers into the trucking field, an industry desperate for qualified drivers.

Other inspiring ideas to help local veterans range from starting a babysitting cooperative so that vets can take time to job search or receive medical assistance to creating car pools so vets in rural areas can get to the local VA office which may be hours away.

Share with us your idea to help veterans in your community succeed and prosper. By participating, you can contribute to this important national conversation and possibly have the chance to make a real difference. Volunteers of America will award one participant with a $1,000 grant to help turn their idea into a reality. Visit our Facebook page by November 11 to learn more and submit your idea today.

The winning idea will be announced via Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday, November 14, so be sure to check back then as well as throughout the campaign to view the inspiring ideas others throughout the country have submitted.

Help us weave a safety net around veterans that returns them to their communities that they valiantly helped protect.

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

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For the past four years, I have had the privilege of recounting Volunteers of America success stories from across the nation or, more simply put, storytelling. I have written about young mothers who have returned from the darkness of a prison cell to a bright kitchen where they could feed their children once again. I have told stories about people with intellectual disabilities who have been freed from the constraints of institutions, becoming empowered and independent. I have told tales of courageous war veterans and sung songs with once homeless men and women. I have listened and captured stories from Hurricane Katrina victims and those who have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own. But never during these years of storytelling did I fully comprehend what these testimonials truly meant. Folks saying, “Volunteers of America…they’re for real. They saved my life.” And more importantly, I never understood the impact of what being on the receiving end of Volunteers of America’s compassionate care truly meant…until now.

When the smoke alarm first went off, I was on the third floor of my townhome. There was already a layer of smoke hanging close to the ceiling as I descended to the second floor, and still no sign of the source. As I approached the first floor, I looked toward the living room. Nothing. Just my dog, sitting in her chair, head cocked as if to say, “What’s going on?” It was just the two of us at home that day. I headed back through the dining room into the kitchen. The flames were three and four feet high as they shot up from the back wall where my grandmother’s old dresser sat. Instinctively, I grabbed a pan and filled it with water and threw it onto the flames. But it was like spitting into a volcano. This was something bigger than I could handle, so I ran back up to the third floor to retrieve the phone I had left on the bed. The smoke was now so dense and black that my eyes were burning and watering. I made my way back down the stairs to the front door, grabbing my dog on the way out.

The fire trucks appeared and immediately got to work, breaking out windows and hosing down the flames. It took one and a half hours to put the fire out and secure the house enough for the inspectors to go in. And although no one was harmed, the loss of clothing, furniture, necessities, memorabilia and things once treasured was devastating. The house was condemned, and it will be some time before we return home.

Volunteers of America responded immediately. A colleague appeared on the scene to see what I needed. There were concerned messages via phone calls, texting and email. Volunteers of America national and local offices across the country sent their generous support through various heartfelt ways, assuring my family and me that we were not alone. And as any Volunteers of America storyteller would realize, I had just become the client. I was the one in need and Volunteers of America had come to the rescue. I was the one who had suffered one of life’s unexpected storms and was now on the receiving end of the compassionate care provided by our organization.

And here’s the real beauty of this little story. The very same compassion and care the Volunteers of America family has shown to me and my family is shown every single day to almost 2.5 million people in more than 400 communities across the nation. The very level of care and compassion that I have chronicled in either the written word or video for more than four years, I have now experienced firsthand. It is REAL. And the 16,000 professionals of Volunteers of America capture this very real American Spirit of giving 24/7, 365 days a year. God bless them.

— By Hope J. Gibbs, Director, Publications and Video

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