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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


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Helping Children Get a Bright Start

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

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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

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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

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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

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