Posts Tagged ‘Veterans’


With the unseasonably warm weather in most of the country this December, many have complained about how difficult it has been to get into the Christmas spirit. For those of us who grew up in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s hard to believe that the season of joy is upon us when it feels more like Easter outside. (Also, theologians note that the birth of Jesus most likely occurred in the spring, and I don’t think they have ever had a white Christmas in Israel!)

This year’s warmth provides an important reminder – Christmas is about much more than snow, caroling and a roaring fire. Christmas is a season of generosity, not just when it comes to material goods, but generosity of one’s time, spirit and love. During this time of the year, we remember those less fortunate who may not experience the same blessings we enjoy. We gather donations for the homeless and provide gifts to children living in poverty who might not otherwise have a festive Christmas. We feed the hungry, and care for the elderly who may not have loved ones with whom to share the holiday.

The importance of donations from individuals like you can never be overstated. Your support 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. Our nation has a strong tradition of giving that has broadened access to health and human services, fostered an appreciation for our history and cultural heritage, advanced scientific and medical research, and supported a variety of other programs vital to the health of our nation.

Also, please remember that need knows no season. The people we serve turn to us for help all 12 months of the year and will still need help come March or April, long after the Christmas season has passed.

So despite the warm temperatures, remember to focus on the warmth of the season that radiates from within each of us. During this Christmas season, or any time of year, we at Volunteers of America hope everyone remembers the true spirit of giving and focuses on helping those in need. To help us make a difference in people’s lives, please visit www.voa.org/spiritofgiving.

Thank you for your support.

– 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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Finding Hope After Tragedy

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

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New Year’s Goals

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

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Helping Before It’s Too Late

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

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