Soldier On is partnering with the BRTA to provide transportation to veterans and their family members in Berkshire County. For more information visit www.veteranfamilyrides.com or call 413-418-4300 or 855-483-8743.
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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
To view article visit http://wamc.org/post/baker-administration-tours-soldier-discussing-veterans-needs.
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.
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…
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 http://www.cranwell.com/veteran%E2%80%99s-day-special-benefit-soldier.
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: http://knopfdoubleday.com/2014/10/01/media-center-for-love-of-country-by-howard-schultz-and-rajiv-chandrasekaran/. 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.
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.
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 www.starbucks.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
Incarcerated veterans at the Albany County Jail will be offered an opportunity for a new lease on life through a collaboration between the jail and Soldier On, the multi-state agency that provides comprehensive services to homeless and at-risk veterans.
Beginning this month, veterans willing to participate in the program will be separated into their own pod at the jail where they will be interviewed and assessed and then provided special counseling and other services with the intent of fully reintegrating them back into the community and reducing their rate of recidivism. Each veteran will be individually evaluated for their needs around substance abuse, physical and mental health, and behavioral history and then provided services specifically tailored to the veteran’s personal needs.
The program is a result of conversations initiated by Sheriff Craig Apple and Director of Services Theron Rockwell, both of whom had already embarked upon instituting systems within the jail to address the social concerns and needs of veteran inmates, according to Jack Downing, President and CEO of Soldier On.
“After further meetings with jail staff and some of the veteran inmates, we knew we had the resources to run an excellent program,” Downing says. Soldier On had already been providing services to incarcerated veterans elsewhere through its Veterans Justice Partnership Program, in which services are coordinated among treatment providers, courts, probation officers and others to help establish alternatives to incarceration. Soldier On will bring a cadre of service providers to the jail, including four staff members with over 75 years’ experience in corrections. Dr. Kevin Cahill, mental health counselor. at Soldier On, and Soldier On Chaplain Quentin Chin will also have roles.
The pod will consist of approximately 45 hours of programming each week with the intent of making an impact on veterans when they leave the institution.
“This is a very innovative and progressive program,” Downing says. “We are going in and collaborating with the sheriff’s department to work on issues of sobriety and personal responsibility to instill self-respect and integrity back into the lives of these veterans. We want to develop those as core values by which both Soldier On and the Sheriff’s Department interact with all the inmates at the jail.”
Soldier On’s extensive intake system is set up to comprehensively address the veteran’s needs, including registering him with the Veterans Administration and other services the veteran is entitled to upon release. Each veteran’s history of substance abuse, mental health, anger and personal reactions are evaluated to identify areas of treatment.
“Soldier On tries to tailor every program to the veterans’ personal needs,” Downing said. “We have no cookie-cutter programs. If we can enhance each veteran’s personal dignity, that is the basis for building self-respect. By building a back-and-forth conversation with the veteran, a relationship occurs in which trust is established. Building trust is a big part of the program.”
Some twenty-three of the jail’s population of 43 veterans showed up for the program’s initial sign-up – a good core group to start the pod and begin to build a culture within the jail that will spread to other veterans and inmates, Downing said. The program will continue to operate in the pod for five days a week with some weekend activity to ensure operations are running smoothly and the correction officers in the pod are getting support. Costs for the program will initially be covered by Soldier On resources and staffing patterns, Downing says, with plans to seek grant funding on both the state and federal level to expand the program services without further internal cost to his agency.
“We are tremendously grateful to Sheriff Apple for extending this opportunity to us on his own initiative by identifying the need within his jail and deciding after examining Soldier On’s past work that it was the right fit for this program,” Downing says.
Soldier On currently operates veterans’ programs in five states. Its mission is to end homelessness among veterans by providing permanent, sustainable, safe, affordable housing with support services that veterans own and operate. Soldier On believes that within an environment of integrity, dignity and hope, veterans can regain physical and mental stability, housing and employment and economic stability, and become fully franchised and contributing members of their community.
“The VA is pleased to be supportive of this new community relationship which recognizes the needs of veterans who are incarcerated,” said Linda Weiss, Director of the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center. “I’d like to commend Sherriff Craig Apple and Albany County for their dedication to the needs of all veterans. Their proactive approach and partnership has enhanced services such as Project Life Saver helping to keep veterans safe and now this initiative which helps those who are incarcerated, bringing them services they need and lessening the likelihood of becoming repeat offenders.
I’d also like to recognize and thank Soldier On, a wonderful community partner and support for veterans, for their continued innovations in meeting veterans where they are and seeing them through their life needs. The VA is highly appreciative of the community support reflected in this relationship as we all continue to assist veterans in their recovery and healing.”
By Heidi Redlitz, Crime Wire
Go to the crime section of any news outlet, and you’re sure to find stories that disturb or revolt you—and which definitely diminish your faith in humanity. But people are also doing pretty spectacular things for themselves and their neighbors, from giving the homeless a renewed sense of dignity, to using arts and crafts to raise awareness for local and global issues. To offset the strange stories and daunting crime stats that circulate in the news every day, here are 15 cases of community members working together to make their neighborhoods a happier, safer place to live.
1) An Old Bus Becomes A Free Restroom For The Homeless
Now here’s an innovative way to get more people to ‘use’ public transportation. A nonprofit group, called Lava Mae, has outfitted a former public transit bus so that the homeless in San Francisco can use it as a restroom. The bus includes two full private bathrooms that offer hot showers, shampoo, soap, towels, and even relaxing music.
Since its water source comes from city fire hydrants, this public bathroom can move across the city to reach a larger population of homeless, and avoid rent hikes or evictions that a permanent structure would be vulnerable to.
“If you’re homeless, you’re living on the streets and you’re filthy, you’re trying to improve your circumstances, but you can’t interview for a job, you can’t apply for housing and you get disconnected from your sense of humanity,” Doniece Sandoval said. “So a shower just in of itself is amazing for people.”
2) Local Communities Step In To Assist Veterans
Just this month, the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) asked Congress for thousands more employees and billions more dollars in funding. Since the VA’s resources were stretched thin, 46,000 local organizations stepped in where the VA fell short. The VA still maintains a crucial role in veteran care, offering specialized brain injury work, occupational therapy, and other advanced care for wounded veterans. But community organizations can offer practical services—job training, housing, financial and marital counseling, addiction treatment, short-term loans, and more—that help get veterans and their families back on their feet.
Community involvement can be highly effective because it fills the gaps left open by a giant bureaucracy. After all, it was a community-based organization, not the VA, that saved the life of Army veteran Sam Bennett. With the personalized attention and support he received from Soldier On, Bennett was able to heal from years of depression, addiction, crime and homelessness. He’s now a case manager for the nonprofit.
“There are just some things that government can’t do, that independent organizations, working together locally, can do,” said David W. Sutherland, a retired infantry officer who runs a nonprofit in Cincinnati.
3) ‘Swingin’ Seniors’ Build New Foundations For Families In Need
The Swingin’ Seniors of York, PA don’t get their name from taking weekly dance classes; they get it from swinging hammers to construct homes for families in need. The group’s 12 retirees, aged 60 to 80 years old, volunteer twice a week with York County’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity.
Currently, the team is working on the Hanover Build, a project to construct a wheelchair-accessible home for a single mom and her 13-year-old daughter who has cerebral palsy and is wheelchair-bound.
4) Columbia City Created Its Own Economic Recovery Through Art
When Columbia City, WA faced continual business closures in the mid 90s, a group of residents and merchants organized a committee to brainstorm revitalization projects. Among the successful ideas were an event showcasing the neighborhood’s ethnic restaurants; a farmer’s market featuring literature tables and live music; a garden tour and BBQ cook-off; and a parking strip turned into a garden.
The committee’s most noteworthy venture, however, was a vacant half-block where residents painted murals of imaginary businesses on boarded up storefronts. The painted ice cream parlor, bookstore, toy store, hat shop, and dance studio looked so realistic, motorists actually stopped to shop! The project was a huge success, as the murals were removed a year later to make room for actual businesses. Today, Columbia City has no empty stores.
5) 350 Musicians Gather In New York To Create An Unforgettable Concert Experience
You’ve heard of a Flash Mob, where people meet in a public place to perform a short dance, and then disperse as quickly as they gathered. How about a Clash Mob? That’s what you get when 350 musicians, of all ages and skill levels, come together for a one-time-only performance on the steps of the Brooklyn Public Library.
Make Music New York is an annual, citywide festival that offers hundreds of free concerts in public spaces for one day. Since National Public Radio commissions new music for the festival, they asked a local musician, Sunny Jain, to compose a song. He created a piece called “100+ BPM,” short for “beats per minute” and “Brooklyn Public Music.”
“This is more about community than about sound,” Jain said before the performance began. “I have no idea what it’s going to sound like, I have never done anything like this before.”
Event organizers published the score online so musicians could practice it in advance. Despite never having practiced the song together, the result was epic. Even through a video of the performance, the enthusiasm of the impromptu music ensemble is extremely palpable.
6) Spanish Typographers Find Innovative Way To Help The Homeless
Homeless individuals have few belongings to share, but they still have a voice. For a group of graphic designers in Spain, that voice is best expressed through their handwriting.
Homeless Fonts is an initiative that creates typefaces based on the penmanship of homeless men and women. Each font is displayed on the organization’s website, so the public can read the creators’ stories, and then purchase the fonts to use in almost anything: ads, posters, packaging, social media messages, etc.
Profits go toward the Arrels Foundation, an organization that offers support to homeless people in Barcelona, Spain.
7) Denver Restaurant Asks Patrons To “Pay What You Can” (Tax And Tip Included)
Borne from a sketch on a cocktail napkin, SAME Café (short for “So All May Eat”) emphasizes “serving good food for the greater good.” The restaurant’s founders, Libby and Brady Birk, wanted a way for residents with limited means to eat healthy foods. Funded by patron donations, SAME Café uses “pay what you can” as its motto to offer local, organic food to anyone who enters. If patrons can’t pay anything, they volunteer for an hour in the kitchen or dining area. The café has become a fixture in Denver, having served over 90,000 people in the last eight years.
8) Burrito Riders Deliver Homemade Burritos By Bike
The Burrito Riders are a bicycle-fueled gang of activists who want to feed the homeless in their neighborhoods. They’re not the only group to make and hand out burritos to the hungry (the Burrito Project allows anyone set up a project in their community), but The Burrito Riders of Louisville, KY are a successful group: during their 60 to 90-minute rides, they give away about 200 burritos. Anyone is welcome to ride, and those who don’t want to bike can volunteer by supplying and making the burritos.
9) Instead Of Dishing Out Bird Seed, These Little Houses Help People Read
Instead of passing out burritos to underfed urban populations, this grassroots initiative seeks to hand out books to hungry readers. The Little Free Library is a program in which anyone can build an outdoor wooden stand that holds donated books. The concept started in Wisconsin in 2009, and it has expanded to 15,000 “free libraries” worldwide.
The program’s rule of thumb is “take a book, return a book,” so community members can use the mini libraries as meeting spots to share and discuss their favorite literature. The program is especially useful for isolated areas without access to public libraries.
“If we can get only one kid to read, (who) wasn’t reading before, for $75… that’s a cheap investment,” said Mike Kearby, who lives in a rural Texas town without a public library.
10) San Francisco Restaurant Serves You A Slice Of Pie With A Side Of Humanity
Delancey Restaurant serves up a delicious array of comfort food, and the best meatloaf you’ll ever have (15 years after trying it, I still think about that first bite). While the food is noteworthy, what’s really remarkable is that the entire establishment is run by former prisoners, addicts, and homeless individuals trying to get back on their feet.
Run by a foundation of the same name, Delancey Street Restaurant was named in honor of the immigrants who came through Ellis Island to live on Delancey Street, in New York’s Lower East Side. Just as these immigrants came from all over the world to start a new life, so the foundation caters to anyone who has hit bottom and needs to rebuild their life.
The restaurant is completely designed, built, and operated by Delancey Street residents. Meanwhile, owners, chefs and wait staff of San Francisco’s best restaurants help train workers to cook, manage, and serve.
All proceeds from the restaurant fund housing, food, and clothing for residents. And since all tips are considered donations, don’t hesitate to leave a really big tip.
11) Community Farm Grows Produce For Baltimore’s Food Deserts
East Baltimore Midway is one of dozens of Baltimore neighborhoods that are “food deserts”—urban or rural areas deprived of access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. To provide nutritious fruits and vegetables to local residents, Cheryl Carmona and Aliza Sollins established Boone St. Farms, an urban farm and community garden cultivated from two formerly vacant plots. Dozens of community members have pitched in since it was established in 2010, and Boone St. Farm has since grown thousands of pounds of affordable produce for residents.
12) Grandmas In Lawn Chairs Keep Crack Dealers Off Street Corners
Grandmothers in the Yesler Terrace public community wanted to get rid of crack dealers in their Seattle neighborhood, so they set up lawn chairs on street corners occupied by drug dealers. It seems that even drug dealers don’t like to be on a grandma’s bad side, because the presence of elderly women knitting and chatting was enough to keep them away. A nearby community followed suit by declaring their neighborhood a drug-free zone, and leading Friday night marches through their streets. Taking a zero-tolerance communal stand against crime through civilian and police foot patrols, has been a seriously effective way to reduce illegal activity.
13) Suburban Eyesores Become Vibrant Green Spaces
Paradise Project is a Montreal-based program that sets up suburban beautification projects. For the group’s most recent venture, volunteers laid down mulch and planted flowers on a piece of property that had been left undeveloped. The club decided the abandoned property was an eyesore, and could do better with some green space. When they first cleared the property, volunteers found broken bottles, syringes, vines, and overgrown plants. Now it’s a corner of bright color and dense greenery. Residents of an extended-care facility next door to the property were ecstatic with the results.
“All (the residents) have been doing is talking about the flowers,” said Louis Carpentier, the facility’s director. “Many of them used to have gardens of their own but they can’t get out any more.”
14) Devastating Storm Has A Silver Lining For Kent County Community
The efforts of Kent County’s residents provide a reassuring example of how social media can reinforce community ties. Earlier this month, an 80-mph storm ravaged Kent County, MI, leaving behind a trail of crushed homes and downed trees. In an effort to organize clean-up events and help clear away the rubble surrounding the homes of affected residents, a group set up a Facebook page, The Helping Hands ~ Kent County Residents Helping Those in Need.
The clean-up efforts are ongoing. Most recently, the Facebook page announced that a food truck would be available to replenish food that residents had lost from power outages.
15) Craftivism Weaves Social Messages Into Art Pieces
Sarah Corbett was a “burned out activist” who’d grown tired of joining demonstrations, signing petitions, and attending campaign meetings. As an introvert who liked to sew, she asked herself, Why not use crafts to discuss global issues in a non-threatening and engaging way? Craftivism (“activism through craft”) had been coined as a term in 2003, but there were no groups or projects she knew of.
So Corbett set up the Craftivist Collective in 2009, which has since stitched together pieces that address global issues. As part of the Jigsaw Project that supported Save The Children’s Race Against Hunger campaign, hundreds of UK crafters stitched together fabric jigsaw pieces containing thought-provoking messages. The project reached 19 million according to various media outlets, and is just one of many ideas the Craftivist Collective has up their knitted sleeves.
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