Soldier On’s Nathan Hanford Named To Berkshire Magazine’s Top “25 Of 2015”


Nathan Hanford, artist in residence for Soldier On, was recently chosen to be among Berkshire Magazine’s “The Berkshire 25” for 2015.

Hanford was honored with other award winners at a reception held at The Mount in Lenox, MA on August 28.

This is Berkshire Magazine’s second year of honoring a “select” group of individuals for their work in improving and enhancing the Berkshires, which the magazine characterizes as the most dedicated, most creative and most influential persons in their fields. The Berkshire 25 “touch upon the various elements of the Berkshires that make us unique, and they work to improve and enhance our home and its diverse features,” the magazine stated in announcing the winners.

Candidates were nominated by readers via Berkshire Magazine’s website and winners were chosen by a panel of advisers. Hanford was honored for helping veterans recover from physical and emotional trauma at Soldier On and using his abilities to “go above and beyond.”

“It is his full-time work as artist in residence and case manager of Soldier On that is really admired by locals,” Berkshire Magazine stated.

Nathan has been a member of the Soldier On staff since October 2013. A multi-skilled artist, Nathan has been able to inspire participation in his group through a flexible arts curriculum in which he brings materials used by the veterans to explore various disciplines of their choice, from painting and drawing to woodcraft and embroidery. Through exercising their creativity, Nathan believes veterans and others can become better equipped to combat the daily struggles of life.


Jim Croasmun

Jim Croasmun is a very familiar face at Soldier On, and frequently can be seen in the med room window in Building 6 handing out pills to residents.

It is a job he has held as a resident staff for the past nine years, indicating he is quite reliable at handing out the right meds in the proper dosage to the right person. It was a job handed to him just a few months after he arrived at Soldier On in January 2006, when the agency was called the United Veterans of America.

Jim attributes his longevity at Soldier On to having a job he likes and the sense of contentment he has attained while residing here.

A native of Erie, PA, where he lived the first 23 years of his life (he is now 60) before moving to Florida, working in construction and maintenance jobs. It was on September 25, 2004 that his life changed.

On that day, Hurricane Jeanne, the deadliest hurricane of the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season, blew into Palm Bay, FL, where Jim had his house. Housesitting for a friend at the time, Jim says that when he came home, “there was just a pile of rubble, the whole neighborhood was gone.”

Jim moved to Melbourne to stay with a friend, who eventually decided to sell his house, giving Jim a two-week notice. His next move was to Chesterfield, MA, where his friend had become acquainted with some friends on the internet. That didn’t last long, and those friends referred Jim to a shelter on Center Street in Northampton.

“I remember waiting four hours in the cold for the shelter to open at 6 a.m.,” Jim says.

The shelter required everyone to leave at 6 a.m. and return at 6 p.m. He found a job shoveling snow for $14 an hour, but it was a mild winter and it snowed infrequently. When the shelter experienced an overflow, Jim ended up at another shelter in Easthampton.  Jim was not there long because he ran into Willie Ledbetter, the outreach coordinator for the UVA, who determined Jim was eligible to reside there.

At the time, case managers handed out meds. But Jim was a good candidate for the job because, as a rule, he doesn’t use drugs or imbibe alcohol.

“I don’t take pills, I don’t like drinking, but I do smoke cigarettes and coffee is my choice of drug,” Jim says.

Jim was approved for the job by the Life Team, started training as a resident staff on April 17, 2006 and officially started on April 23.

He’s been here ever since, and looks forward to his duties as a resident staff at Soldier On.

“I enjoy helping people,” he says.


Governor Charlie Baker Visits Soldier On During “Spotlight on Excellence” Tour

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PITTSFIELD: During a visit to western Massachusetts over the weekend, Governor Charlie Baker and members of his administration met with veterans and staff at Solider On’s housing and care facility in Pittsfield.

After touring campus apartments, Governor Charlie Baker sat down with area veterans at Soldier On’s transitional housing and homeless shelter. With a mission of ending veteran homelessness, CEO Jack Downing recalled the saying that changed his vision was that every American service member who put on the uniform made a pledge to die for the country.

“I was running a program at the time in 2002 that housed veterans in a shelter and thought used clothing and standing in lines for food was acceptable,” Downing said. “When I finally heard ‘I will die for you’ I realized they deserve to have everything I want for my family.”

The 39 units at Soldier On’s Gordon Mansfield Veterans Community operate under a model allowing a veteran to own his or her apartment. Downing says the non-profit has found that veterans who have experienced homelessness or addiction feel safe and secure in communities with fellow veterans.

“What we call the ‘virus’ in our community…people say ‘How do people get better here?’ and we say ‘You got to give them the flu,’” Downing said. “How do you get the flu? You’re around people who are sick you get sick. That’s what we do here. We say you’re around people who are sober and living good lives, you’re going to get the virus and you’re going to get better.”

Downing says they plan to open similar units in Northampton, Agawam, Chicopee, Albany, Jackson, Mississippi and at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Francisco Urena is Massachusetts new secretary of veterans’ services. The 34-year-old spent eight years in the Marine Corps and has a Purple Heart for injuries suffered when deployed to Iraq.

“I don’t belong behind a desk,” Urena said. “I belong in the community engaging with our leaders to insure that we are accountable to services, to families and more importantly to our veterans to bring them what they need to succeed. We shouldn’t be holding them back.”

Governor Baker says he will be constantly asking Urena and Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash how Massachusetts can expand programs like Soldier On.

“The problem with the way a lot of stuff in government works is you got services over here and you got housing over here,” Baker said. “This distance in between might as well be a country mile or 100 miles. So what ends up happening of course is the people who need the services over here would decompose because they couldn’t get to them because the shelter they were in was over here. They’d end up in the hospital and ER here there and everywhere.”

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 370,000 veterans live in the Bay State. Urena says the main issue for his agency is not a lack of resources, but making people aware of and helping them access available aid.

“Ending homelessness is not just providing the home to folks it’s providing the community, the jobs and the services to be able to assist them,” Urena said. “Not creating new services or adding more it’s connecting the existing services that we have and being able to deliver them in an accountable manner.”

Governor Baker’s visit to the area days after being sworn in was meaningful for Dave Hastings, the superintendent of Southern Berkshire Regional School District and an Army veteran.

“His being here in the Berkshires sets a great tone, but even more importantly his being here to support veterans and trying to eliminate homelessness within the veteran community,” Hastings said. “If that sets a tone for his term I think that’ll be absolutely great.”

Jim Levulis, WAMC Northeast Public Radio
January 12, 2015
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Life Enhancement Program

Like many homeless veterans, James Williams had hit what he called a “bottomless pit.” He had seen it all. Aside from homelessness, his many medical maladies were catching up with him as he got older, including diabetes, early stages of emphysema, and a heart condition. James, 60, says he got involved with drugs from a young age, but eventually got married and had five children. The marriage dissolved with the same kind of behaviors and attitudes that come with drug addiction, and he found himself in a downward spiral.

While participating in an outreach program at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, he met a representative from Soldier On, where he now resides. Being at Soldier On, he says, allowed him to focus on his addiction and, importantly, his health. “If I had continued the way I was, I would have ended up dying in prison,” James says. “I didn’t want to do that to my grandchildren because I wanted to be in their lives.” To that end, James was one of three veterans in Soldier On’s Pittsfield facility to enroll in the Berkshire Health Systems Canyon Ranch Institute’s Life Enhancement Program. Life Enhancement is an intense weekly program for committed individuals who want to address their chronic diseases by changing their life by focusing on four dimensions of health: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. By taking an active part in his recovery, James said he has found a better way to deal with his illnesses through the program by diet, exercise, nutrition, and gaining a deeper understanding of his conditions.

James said his health has improved considerably since enrolling in the program. “I had been told that I was a stroke waiting to happen,” James says. “When the opportunity came along to do this program, I said why not get involved in something that will better me in the long run and put me on a track to better health and attitude.”

James was joined in the Life Enhancement Program by fellow veterans Kevin Counter and Chip Mantz. Kevin, 48, who served in the Army from 1990-98, was being kept back from serving overseas because of his Crohn’s Disease, which was diagnosed in 1991. When his disease worsened, he was eventually given a medical retirement.

Sick with Crohn’s and waiting for his VA claim to come through, Kevin found himself fighting alcohol and drug addiction because of his tendency at the time to self-medicate. He also lost his job because he was often sick and he eventually became homeless. The VA Medical Center in Leeds, where Kevin was receiving his primary care, steered him to Soldier On.

Kevin was prompted to participate in the Life Enhancement Program to learn more about his disease and manage it better. What he has learned, he says, is that his symptoms are definitely associated with nutrition and exercise, which he has improved upon, while also finding ways to reduce stress, which is another contributing factor with Crohn’s. Taking active role through the Life Enhancement Program has helped him to better deal with the disease and relieve his symptoms, he says.

Chip Mantz, who served in the U.S. Navy nine years, has 23 years of sobriety to his credit. After losing his job and his apartment, Chip became homelesss in his home town of Allentown, PA.

Chip went to the VA for homeless services and they gave him a choice to go to either San Diego or to Massachusetts to Soldier On for placement.

“I had a car that wouldn’t make it as far as Mississippi,” Chip says. “So my choice was clear.”

The head of case management at Soldier On, John Crane, urged Chip to enroll in the Life  Enhancement Program to deal with his weight and other issues. He has had perfect attendance since.

“I’m learning good stuff,” Chip says. “The program is helping me to zero in on what is healthy and not healthy to eat and what kind of exercise I should be involved in.”

The Berkshire Health System’s Canyon Ranch Institute offers its programming typically in low-income or medically underserved communities, and helps individuals to change their life. James Williams, Kevin Counter and Chip Mantz can attest to that.


Soldier On Supporter Steve Vilot of Sim’s Barber Shop Does Lollapalooza


Festival season means a lot more than visual art on the stage and screen. Street style at festivals gets nearly as much hype as the artists themselves, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t take the opportunity to scope out the coolest bits of inspiration at Lollapalooza 2014.

In the Arists Village of Lolla, bands, solo artists and DJs relax before and after their time on stage. This year, Andis and Barber Authority saw an opportunity to make artists’ downtime relaxing and productive by hosting a barbering tent.

Barber Authority is a group of more than 50 barbers led by Master Barber Steve Vilot of Sim’s Salon and Barber Shop in Great Barrington, MA. The group goes to various events around the country—music and film festivals, X games, and educational events to name a few—to bestow the gift of barbering on artists, athletes and attendees.

Andis Company sponsored the first-ever Lollapalooza Barber Authority tent with tools, towels and supplies to ensure everyone who entered the tent left looking clean-cut.

Vilot pointed out that events like this are great opportunities for his team as well as for the artists; many of them simply lack the time on tours to keep up with maintainingtheir hair.

Particularly cool and interesting was the amount of women popping in the tent for intricate undercut designs. The barbering team proved to be both meticulous and highly creative.

The cool, vintage barber chairs (a private collection from a local barber) and friendly fellows at the Barber Authority tent ensured artists looked and felt their best before going on stage. Three of the barbers were local to Chicago, and the rest were part of the traveling Barber Authority team.

For festivalgoers who wanted even more than the expansive event that is Lollapalooza, Hard Rock Hotel Chicago hosted The Sound of Your Stay Music Lounge across the street from Grant Park with live music, stations to charge devices, drinks and—what we were most interested in—a Red 7 Salon stylist room with a braid bar.

If a festival happens in the summer and there are no braids, did it even really happen? We think not!

The three stylist chairs were scarcely empty; festival patrons as well as performers took a moment to take a load off and get pretty much whatever they wanted done—plus a hand massage.

Some men got trims, and many women had their hair braided or curled with flowers tucked into their locks. Between the air conditioning, cool and vibrant environment, and pampering, this was a great place to relax and enjoy an exclusive experience.

Excuse us while we start our Lollapalooza 2015 countdown…–Music-Lollapalooza-2014-270000191.html


Veteran’s Day Special at Cranwell Resort to Benefit Soldier On

In honor of Veteran’s Day, stay at Cranwell on Tuesday, 11/11, for just $99* and they’ll donate half the proceeds to Soldier On. Plus for each room reservation, they’re giving a complimentary round of golf for two with cart that can be used during the 2015 season*.

Reserve on line or call 800-272-6935.

*Plus tax and resort fee. Rate is for Classic Resort King or Double, based on availability.  This rate is not applicable for group blocks and cannot be combined with any other discount. Complimentary golf will be valid May 1 – October 31, 2015 excluding Saturdays and July/August.
For more information on the deal visit


HBO and Starbucks Salute US Veterans and their Families with the Concert for Valor

LIVE ON THE NATIONAL MALL IN WASHINGTON, D.C. TUESDAY, NOV. 11Live talent to include Eminem, Jamie Foxx, Dave Grohl, Metallica, John Oliver, Rihanna, Bruce Springsteen, Carrie Underwood, Zac Brown Band, among others, as well as special appearances by Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg at concert to honor the courage and sacrifice of America’s veterans and their families
Concert to be Executive Produced by Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks and Joel Gallen

NEW YORK AND SEATTLE (OCT. 2, 2014) – HBO and Starbucks Coffee Company (NASDAQ: SBUX) announced today they will host THE CONCERT FOR VALOR, a first-of-its-kind concert to honor the courage and sacrifice of America’s veterans and their families on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to be presented live on HBO this Veterans Day, Tuesday, November 11 (7:00 p.m. ET/4:00 p.m. PT).
The concert will feature a broad array of talent from the worlds of music and entertainment, including Eminem, Jamie Foxx, Dave Grohl, Metallica, John Oliver, Rihanna, Bruce Springsteen, Carrie Underwood and Zac Brown Band, as well as special appearances by Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, among many others.

THE CONCERT FOR VALOR will provide a national stage for ensuring that veterans and their families know that their fellow Americans’ gratitude is genuine. Millions of people, including veterans, active duty service members, their families and Americans from all walks of life are expected to watch the free concert in person or on television, with the goal of raising awareness for veterans service organizations dedicated to education, wellness, reemployment and reintegration. The event will be presented from the National Mall between the Capitol and the Washington Monument, and HBO will offer its affiliates the opportunity to open the signal, allowing nonsubscribers to view the special. Former US Secretary of Defense and Starbucks board member Robert Gates and former Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen are serving in an advisory capacity with regard to veterans outreach and veteran service organizations that will be recipients of concert donations.
The live event will be executive produced by Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks and Joel Gallen, who will also direct. Hanks, who devoted his time and talent to support the construction of the World War II Memorial, has, with Goetzman, executive produced such projects as the Emmy®-winning HBO miniseries “The Pacific,” “Band of Brothers” and “John Adams,” as well as the HBO music specials “The 25th Anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert” and the recent “2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony,” both of which were directed by Gallen.
HBO chairman and CEO Richard Plepler said, “We are honored to play a small role to help raise awareness and support for our service men and women. Their immeasurable sacrifice deserves our nation’s gratitude. This event will not only celebrate their service, but help remind Americans of the
many challenges they face on and off the battlefield. We are delighted to join with Starbucks in our mutual effort to pay tribute to our veterans and those serving in the military.”
Starbucks chairman, president and ceo Howard Schultz said, “The post-9/11 years have brought us the longest period of sustained warfare in our nation’s history. The less than one percent of Americans who volunteered to serve during this time have afforded the rest of us remarkable freedoms – but that freedom comes with a responsibility to understand their sacrifice, to honor them and to appreciate the skills and experience they offer when they return home. As many now seek reemployment, now is the time to offer them opportunities to work in our communities to do what they do best: solve problems and lead with selfless service. THE CONCERT FOR VALOR represents a significant and historic opportunity to demonstrate our country’s potential to come together as a nation, and do right by those who have done so much for us. They’ve stepped up. Now it’s our turn.”
Last November, Starbucks committed to hiring at least 10,000 veterans and military spouses over the next five years. In April, the Schultz Family Foundation, co-founded by Schultz and his wife, Sheri, committed $30 million to support veterans’ transition to civilian life. Schultz is also co-authoring “For Love of Country,” which reports on the sacrifices veterans have made, the bravery and leadership they demonstrate, and the huge economic benefit and opportunity that transitioning veterans bring to American communities and companies. The book, co-written with Rajiv Chandrasekaran of The Washington Post, will be published by Knopf and available nationwide in early November. The authors will donate proceeds from the sale of the book to veterans service organizations. You can learn more about the book here: HBO has a long history of original programming devoted to supporting veterans and examining veterans’ experiences from diverse perspectives. In addition to the miniseries “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific,” the network has presented the original movies “Taking Chance” and “The Tuskegee Airmen,” the miniseries “Generation Kill,” and the documentaries “Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq,” “Wartorn 1861-2010,” “Baghdad ER,” “Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery,” “Crisis Hotline: Veterans 1” and the upcoming “The Last Patrol,” among many others. HBO and Starbucks are proud to present THE CONCERT FOR VALOR with the support of the Trust for the National Mall. As the official nonprofit partner of the National Park Service dedicated to restoring and improving the National Mall, the Trust is committed to preserving the sacred space where America’s military veterans are honored and free speech – both spoken and sung – is protected. The Trust will provide event volunteers and logistical assistance to support the concert and preserve the grounds of the National Mall.
While less than one percent of American adults serve in the U.S. military today, there are currently more than 20 million American veterans. This includes more than 2.5 million 9/11-era veterans who are facing a range of challenges as they make the transition back to civilian life.

About HBO
Home Box Office, Inc. is the premium television programming subsidiary of Time Warner Inc. and the world’s most successful pay TV service, providing the two television services – HBO® and Cinemax® – to approximately 127 million subscribers worldwide. The services offer the most popular subscription video-on-demand products, HBO On Demand® and Cinemax On Demand® as well as HBO GO® and MAX GO®, HD feeds and multiplex channels. Internationally, HBO branded television networks, along with the subscription video-on-demand products HBO On Demand and HBO GO, bring HBO services to over 70 countries. HBO and Cinemax programming is sold into over 150 countries worldwide.

About Starbucks
Since 1971, Starbucks Coffee Company has been committed to ethically sourcing and roasting high-quality arabica coffee. Today, with stores around the globe, the company is the premier roaster and retailer of specialty coffee in the world. Through our unwavering commitment to excellence and our guiding principles, we bring the unique Starbucks Experience to life for every customer through every cup. To share in the experience, please visit us in our stores or online at
For more information on this news release, contact us.

HBO New York: Quentin Schaffer or Tobe Becker (212) 512-1329 or 5492
HBO Los Angeles: Nancy Lesser or Mara Mikialian (310) 382-3274 or 3276
Starbucks: Corey duBrowa or Laurel Harper (206) 318-7100 or


Carole Brown Success Story

Carole Brown is a 67-year-old U.S. Army veteran who found herself in need of Soldier On’s help.  Having served during the Vietnam Era, Carole was about to be discharged from the East Orange, NJ VA Medical Center and had no place to go.

She was homeless, had no clothing and no money.  In April 2014, a representative from the East Orange VA called Soldier On on her behalf, and a Soldier On case manager visited her four times over the next few weeks to go over housing applications prior to her scheduled discharge.

However, when she was discharged on May 19, she still did not have any place to go. A  Soldier On peer mentor picked her up and brought her to the Union County Department of Social Services to try to get money for a hotel room. She was denied assistance because of her income and their next stop was Chase Bank to set up an account for Carole.  At the same time, her Soldier On caseworker reached out on her behalf to Doug Breen at the Middlesex County Veterans Office. He and the local VFW chapter agreed to pay for her placement in a motel until she had housing secured.

The next day, Kirsten, her caseworker, brought Carole to three housing appointments. They were able to find an available apartment at the Westlake Mews complex in Jackson, which agreed to waive the application fee.  Carole however needed to get her identification and earnings documents from her old apartment to complete the application and move into the apartment.  The new tenant there, however, informed Carole that all of her belongings had been thrown away.  That night, Carole spent her second night at the motel. Kirsten created an email address and online accounts to the VA and the Social Security Administration for Carole to provide documentation for the application.

On May 21, Westlake Mews Apartment Complex approved Carole’s application and Kirsten made an appointment for the following day to sign her lease. Heather brought Carole to the Social Security Office to receive a re-issued Social Security card, and then to the Elijah’s Promise shop to pick up some clothing.  That night Carole spent her third and final night at the motel.

On May 22, just three days after Carole was discharged from the hospital, Carole moved into her new apartment. Carole’s Social Security and VA checks had not yet been deposited into her new bank account so Soldier On provided Westlake Mews with Carole’s security deposit and first month’s rent. Since then, Carole’s checks have been deposited.  She now has a home and income.

A food pantry in Toms River, NJ supplied Carole with eight bags of groceries. Her new property manager gave her furniture for the new apartment. Generous neighbors also came through, giving Carole some necessities that she was lacking. By the end of the day, she had a recliner, towels, toiletries, and basic supplies for her apartment.

Carole was now well supplied, with an income, and a secure apartment.


VA Awards $15,772,140 to Soldier On

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced today that it has awarded a new $3 million to Soldier On, the western-Massachusetts based agency for homeless veterans, to expand its programming for Supportive Services for Veteran Families in Pittsfield and Berkshire County.

The new grant will be operational immediately and was awarded over a three-year period. It follows the award announced last month of $12,772,140 in renewed grants for Soldier On’s current SSVF programming serving veterans in 36 counties in eastern upstate and central New York, 23 counties in western Pennsylvania, 8 counties in New Jersey, 76 counties in Mississippi, and four in western Massachusetts.  Each of those areas received $2 million while the four western counties of Western Massachusetts received $772,000.

The new award was announced today by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald as part of $207 million in SSVF grants nationwide that will help an additional 70,000 homeless and at-risk veterans and their families that will be distributed to 82 non-profit agencies. Additional funding for targeting high-need communities with high numbers of homeless veterans is also included.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs is committed to using evidence based approaches such as SSVF to prevent homelessness and produce successful outcomes for veterans and their families,” McDonald said. “This is a program that works, because it allows VA staff and local homeless service providers to work together to address the unique challenges that make it difficult for some veterans and their families to remain stably housed.”

Soldier On received its first SSVF grant in October 2011.  It now reaches approximately 3,500 homeless and at-risk veterans and their families in the five states.

Under its innovative concept, Soldier On equips teams of mobile rapid-response units that deliver its intake and supportive services directly to the veteran households. The SSVF grants enable the agency to provide supportive services, outreach in the community and, with the VA, case management, assistance with obtaining VA benefits and other services. Also covered are assistance with obtaining health care, financial planning, transportation, legal services and housing counseling. In addition, these grants may also provide temporary financial assistance for rent, security and utility deposits, utility fees, moving costs, child care, and emergency services.

“Soldier On is proud to partner with the Department of Veterans Administration in serving the veterans of Berkshire County, “Soldier On President and CEO John F. Downing said. This particular grant allows us to serve the most vulnerable of the veterans in an attempt to achieve housing stability and life-long security in the Berkshire community by utilizing VA resources in conjunction with community-based systems of care so that veterans can remain housed and not ever face homelessness again.”

“I would also like to express my gratitude for the support of Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey and Representatives John McGovern and Richie Neal,” Downing added.

The SSVF grants are part of the VA’s goal to end homelessness by 2015, which has been reduced by 33 percent since 2010, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. With a success rate of 84 percent, and an average cost per veteran family of only $2,480, the SSVF program is a low-cost, high-impact way to make successful interventions.

Soldier On also provides safe and supportive transitional housing for approximately 225 veterans in Pittsfield, MA and Leeds, MA, and permanent cooperative housing at its 39-unit Gordon H. Mansfield Community in Pittsfield. Its multi-faceted approach to meeting the needs of veterans also includes transitional housing for women veterans and a Women’s Wellness Center, 45 hours of weekly programming for incarcerated veterans at the Albany (NY) House of Correction, and a comprehensive transportation services program.

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