Tag Archives: veterans

Make a Christmas Wish Come True!

e-_blog-october_lighthouse_christmas_2013_websiteStart dusting off your Santa hats and breaking out the gift wrap! Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans is gearing up for our 15th Annual Christmas Wish Project to spread some holiday cheer to those in need this season. But we can’t do it without you!

How can you HELP? We are currently serving more than 55,000 individuals in need and over 1,000 will not receive a gift for Christmas. Help us make wishes come true by purchasing a present for one or more people in our programs! To see the joy your gift brings, check out pictures of last year’s Christmas Wish Project.

How can you GET INVOLVED? Let us know how many people you would like to adopt and we will send you their Wish List. We have asked those on the Christmas list to choose reasonably priced gifts they most need. Presents will need to be wrapped, labeled and delivered to our office by Tuesday, December 6th.

Don’t have time to SHOP? Make a monetary donation to the Christmas Wish Project by Wednesday, November 30, and we’ll do all the work for you! When entering your donation, please be sure to select “Christmas Wish Project” in the Gift Designation menu.

JOIN THE FUN! Email Victoria King, Community Outreach Coordinator, or call at (504) 486-8699.

Your support spreads Christmas joy! Thank you!

Steve Dooley “Flips the Script”

Steve Dooley in front of his office building at Volunteers of America.

Steve Dooley’s life took many twists and turns before he arrived at Volunteers of America.  He went from “zero to hero”, rising up from a tough background to being a social worker with two master’s degrees and as Steve jokes, “a theoretical Ph.D from the streets”. But a couple years ago the harsh economy took its toll on Steve and he “flipped the script”. The counselor needed counseling; the social worker became a client.

Born and raised in New Orleans, Steve stayed close to home for college when he attended Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO) and Loyola where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in radio/tv communications.  After college Steve joined the military where he was an airman/seaman for 3 years on the USS John F. Kennedy. He discovered his real passion for social work when he entered a master’s program at SUNO.

As a graduate student working towards becoming a social worker Steve participated in several community groups including Total Community Action (TCA), Big Brothers, and the Boys and Girls Club.  When Hurricane Katrina hit he lived in a FEMA trailer on the SUNO campus with other hurricane affected students, faculty, and their families. He wanted to bring some relief to the emotional stress the children in the trailer park were facing and so he built a playground for the kids on the SUNO campus. The Louisiana Spirit’s “Unsung Hero” article praising him for his efforts gave him the credentials he needed to pursue another master’s degree in criminal justice.

Steve left for Colorado in 2010 to be with his girlfriend where he stayed until 2011.  He was a lead treatment counselor at Shiloh House group home where he worked with traumatized youth (both the culprits and the victims). When his relationship started to wane he started feeling more and more isolated without his family and wanted to come back to New Orleans for their moral support.  The kids were sad and crying when he left, but he knew it was time to go home.

Before he got back to New Orleans his mom had died with Alzheimer’s and Steve felt he was on his own for living arrangements. He could not find a job, became isolated for several months and found himself spending lots of time in his truck.  Given his education and work experience Steve was shocked that so much time was going by and he couldn’t find any work in New Orleans.  He was professional and educated but it just wasn’t happening. After so much searching and no success he became beleaguered with stress, duress, anger, frustration, and hurt.  He didn’t need psychological help, he just needed a job.

At this point he turned to Volunteers of America where he was connected to a case worker.  His social worker determined he was qualified for assistance as a veteran and he was given housing at Volunteers of America’s Veterans Transitional Housing Facility while he continued to search for work. Program Director of Supportive Services Melissa Haley recognized his abilities as a man of social work and soon hired him as an intake specialist at Volunteers of America’s Supportive Services for Veterans Families program (SSVF).  Once again Steve “flipped the script” and is now back on an upswing.  As an intake specialist Steve helps other veterans who are homeless to find permanent employment and housing.  Although Steve was losing hope little by little during his period of unemployment, his new job has recharged his spirits. Ironically upon his Case Managers Ty’s departure Mr. Dooley replaced her as a Full Time Case Manager for the SSVF program.

Steve advises his clients not to get too caught up in handouts but to stay disciplined, be a go getter, and once you get what you’re looking for, make sure to maintain it.  Throughout his low points in life Steve has remained optimistic, driven, determined, and realistic. He is working towards owning his own home, finding a great companion, and advancing in his career and of that he is “absolutely, positively hopeful”.

Roosevelt Finds Faith

Roosevelt stands in front of the Veterans Transitional Housing Facility with the leaf blower he donated.

Roosevelt grew up in a religious family in St. James, Louisiana, but his life took a dark turn before he returned to his faith many years later.

Roosevelt joined the military right out of high school.  He worked as part of the Airborne infantry, parachuting out of planes and providing defense from the skies.  He was a good soldier, but his anxiety and depression fueled his increasing craving for drugs and alcohol and once the structure of the military was no longer part of his life, he gave in to his temptations.

Drugs took over his life and became his whole reason for living.  He was untrustworthy, dishonest, a thief.  He still kept a job, but didn’t pay the bills.  He lost all sympathy and compassion.  His relationship with his wife and daughters took a backseat to his relationship with drugs.  Everything was about him.

Years of drug abuse ensued. He “lived to use and used to live”.  Eventually his health deteriorated and he ended up in a recovery program at a VA hospital for various medical conditions.  He was in recovery for 11 months.  Through recovery he discovered a new way of living.  He started out in a 12-steps program which instilled in him the spiritual principles he needed to save his life. He then transferred from the hospital to the Volunteers of America Veterans Transitional Housing Program which provides housing and supportive services to veterans trying to rebuild their lives.

Roosevelt took advantage of every good thing Volunteers of America had to offer. Before he was agitated and anxious and didn’t know what his next move was going to be.  But he started living in the present, taking control of his life and making things happen for himself instead of waiting for help.  Even though the government said he had a disability, he still found a job that he could perform with his capacities.  He got away from the bickering and self-pity that had kept him back for so many years. He diligently worked, went to his AA meetings, and never missed an appointment with his counselors at the veterans facility.  He was incredibly grateful to his friend Jeff, a community leader at the facility, who taught  him how to write a resume on the computer and helped him acquire a laptop.

Just as Jeff helped him, Roosevelt is now helping other veterans as a community leader at Volunteers of America.  Roosevelt counsels recovering veterans with a special empathy that comes from living through similar struggles.  He gives hope and lift spirits with his weekly readings.  Although Roosevelt doesn’t preach, he advises according to what worked for him.  As Roosevelt says, “Have faith.  God’s will is the way, the only way.  If you’re a child of God change will come.”

What have pulled Roosevelt out of despair are his blessings of generosity, compassion, kindness, understanding, and reliability.  He gets the most joy from helping other people and has learned that giving away makes him feel better than acting selfishly.

The leaf blower that Roosevelt bought for the Transitional Housing Facility symbolizes all the values that Roosevelt has obtained over the years. He saw that the facility needed new equipment so he took the initiative to provide what they needed and extend a helping hand.

Although he still visits the facility as a community leader, Roosevelt thought it was time to go back to St. James and take care of his elderly mother.   It has been a long journey towards spiritual awakening, but now that he has truly accepted Christ, Roosevelt has decided to get baptized in his hometown.  Roosevelt says at his baptism his mother will be overwhelmed and overjoyed. He can’t wait to see her eyes light up when they enter the church together.

The Home Depot Foundation Announces $105,000 Grant to Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans to Help Homeless Veterans

As part of the recent funding to Volunteers of America's Veterans Transitional Housing Facility, Home Depot and Team Home Depot (volunteers from local Home Depot stores) recently celebrated the dedication of a newly constructed pavilion and community garden at the facility.

New Orleans, LA (October 4, 2011) – As part of its “Celebration of Service” initiative to honor U.S. military veterans, The Home Depot® Foundation today announced a $105,000 grant to New Orleans based Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans to address the critical housing needs of U.S. military veterans. This grant is part of almost $750,000 in grants announced today for 11 Volunteers of America homeless veterans programs in 10 cities. These programs will provide new transitional housing for 242 veterans and eight single-family homes for lease or lease-purchase by veterans.

Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans Veterans Housing program offers transitional housing to 56 male veterans, who are homeless, at any given time.  The program offers comprehensive supportive services including outreach and assessment, financial management, emergency services, and intensive case management.  In addition to the housing component, our Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program serves 181 veterans.  This program focuses on employment issues by assisting veterans with developing skills to secure and retain employment.  Department of Labor and Department of Veterans Administration provides the funding for the services.  VOAGNO Veterans Housing program also coordinates supportive services and client assistance to more than 200 veterans and their families throughout the state of Louisiana.

“We are thrilled and grateful to be the recipient of a grant from the Home Depot Foundation,” says James M. LeBlanc, President and CEO of Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans. “We are proud to help support and protect veterans when they return home just as they supported us in their service. The Home Depot Foundation’s generosity will help create a solution to a serious nation wide problem and we are excited to call them a partner in this mission.”

The pavilion (pictured above) will be a place where veterans in the transitional housing facility can come to relax and interact with their fellow housemates. The garden will provide fresh herbs and vegetables to be used by the kitchen staff to provide healthier, more nutritious meals. Both the garden and pavilion were funded by Home Depot.

Nationally, Volunteers of America serves more than 7,700 homeless veterans each year through 35 programs in 15 states.

Each Monday between September 11 and Veterans Day (November 11), The Home Depot Foundation announced approximately $1 million in grants to veterans’ initiatives nationally for a total of $9.1 million.  Grants announced during “Celebration of Service” are part of The Home Depot Foundation’s commitment of $30 million over three years to veterans’ housing needs.

“The Home Depot Foundation is committed to ensuring that every veteran has a safe place to call home, and the services provided by Volunteers of America affiliates are essential to fulfilling that goal,” said Kelly Caffarelli, president, The Home Depot Foundation. “We are impressed by the quality of work being done by Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans and we hope that our assistance will allow them to serve even more veterans and their families.”

In addition to receiving funding, Volunteers of America affiliates will potentially be supported by Team Depot, the Company’s associate-led volunteer force.

Jeff’s Story – Learning, Progressing, Moving Forward

Jeff is a native of Slidell who has recently reentered the work force after a year living in our Veterans Transitional Housing facility. This facility and program helps homeless veterans rebuild their lives by providing housing, job training, support services and more.  Prior to coming to Volunteers of America Jeff served in the army as part of the military police.  After leaving the army Jeff fell on some hard times and found himself homeless.  After talking to a homeless coordinator in the New Orleans region he found out he could qualify for services from Volunteers of America’s Veterans Transitional Housing Program.  At our Veterans facility Jeff was able to get the help he needed to get his life back on track. The support he received helped him to secure employment and live independently which is the main focus of the veterans program.

Jeff currently lives in St. Rose where he is employed as a security guard.  He is working towards earning his teaching credential and one day hopes to teach middle-school history and social studies, or his favorite subject Louisiana history.  Jeff discovered his passion for teaching when he was in Korea and Thailand with the army where he taught English as a Second Language.  Jeff dreams of buying a house next to the school where he is teaching, get involved with school and community activities, and spend summers taking trips overseas and traveling around the country.  Although he is a “success story” Jeff likes to think of himself as a work in progress; he is constantly learning and evolving, takes everything he has learned and continues to move forward.

Quiet Heroes with Sally-Ann Roberts on WWL

“Quiet Hero” David Garic is a retired U.S. Army major who has generously offered his time and talent to support veterans at Volunteers of America’s Veterans Transitional Housing Program.

Veterans make up 1/5th of the homeless population in the US and there are 1,200 to 2,800 homeless veterans living in New Orleans.  Our Veterans Transitional Housing program helps homeless veterans rebuild their lives by providing housing, job training, support services, and more.  We provide transitional housing for 56 veterans in New Orleans and outreach services to more than 300 homeless veterans in the area.  With the help of our program, veterans are able to overcome post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and mental and physical health issues.  Since the facility opened, 163 homeless veterans have transitioned into employment and self-sufficiency.  As David Garic remarks, “For so long these guys served the needs of the nation. This is just a small, very small, way of trying to pay that gratitude and show that gratitude back to them.”

Join us at the Veterans facility for a Reach for the Stars Experience to tour some of the facility and learn first hand some of the many ways Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans is touching lives and building community! Click here for more info and to RSVP.

Veterans’ Graduation Ceremony

The Veterans’ Transitional Program recently held a graduation commencement which marked the end of an eight-week program of instruction and individual coaching for homeless veterans. The purpose of the program was to assist veterans with returning to the workforce. Curriculum included training in resume construction and writing, job applications, interviewing techniques and skills, and practice interviewing.

Left to right in photo:

Jim Leblanc, President/CEO Volunteers of America

Lenny Simmons, Board Member

Paul Graff, Board Member

Tom Grace, Board Member

Martha Huie, HR Consultant (volunteers for this program)

Ashley Gremillion, HR Director with Phelps Dunbar (volunteers for this program)

David Garic, Garic Consulting, Volunteer Team Leader for this program

Randolph A. Macabitas, Program Director, Veterans Services

Ms. Huie, Ms. Gremillion and Mr. Garic are dedicated volunteers to the Job Readiness program and are instrumental in its success. (Not pictured is Bob Billings, another volunteer with this project).

To view WGNO TV coverage of the event, please visit our YouTube page.

Hollywood’s Story

Ronald, known as “Hollywood” to his friends, is a Gentilly native and Army veteran with a big smile and exuberant spirit. Ronald led a happy life before Hurricane Katrina. A proud homeowner in St. Bernard Parish, he had a good job with Shell, managing the company’s largest oil rig in the Gulf. He was also the patriarch of a proud, happy family.

Katrina hit, and brought with it flood waters 28 feet deep – enough to make the house across the street from Ronald’s “look like it was hit by a bomb”. He’s only recently begun to open up about the seven days he spent stranded atop his home in Violet – “helicopters passed me every day…CNN got footage of me swimming…but no one came to help”. Ronald was finally rescued and treated in Austin, TX, but was “covered in snake bites, had suffered a minor stroke, and doctors told me I might never walk again”.

The storm gradually took away everything Ronald had. After making a full recovery from his injuries, he returned to a wrecked home, no job, and a marriage that had begun to falter. He fell into a deep depression and struggled to rebuild his life.

Ronald contacted Veterans’ Affairs, but was placed on a waiting list. While he waited patiently for things to improve, he moved in with a friend, which he recalls as difficult – “it didn’t work out”. Finally, in November 2010, VA connected him with Volunteers of America, where he was given a chance for a fresh start at our Napoleon Avenue facility. “It’s been a positive experience”, says Ronald. “The Napoleon Avenue facility is a safe, secure environment with lots of resources for veterans”. He also praises the facility for its familial environment, and it’s pretty clear that he’s well-loved by fellow residents, who always greet him with an enthusiastic “Hollywood!” and joke amiably with him.

If it weren’t for Volunteers of America, a homeless shelter is where this proud, hard-working New Orleans native says he would be. Now, with our help, he’s working on building up strength to return to work at Shell. Volunteers of America has given him the tools Ronald needs to rebuild the life taken from under him by the storm.

Watch Ronald’s testimonial below.

Veterans’ Transitional Housing Honors Veterans

On Veterans’ Day, our Veterans’ Transitional Housing program showed their support for our veterans with a celebration at our Napoleon Avenue facility. Vets were treated to a lunch and a ceremony featuring membersof the United States Marines Band. Gifts were given out to residents ofthe facility. Pictured is Veterans’ Program Director Randolph Macabitas briefing WWL-TV’s Jill Hezeau on the many services provided to veterans by Volunteers of America.

Our Veterans’ Transitional Housing program helps homeless veterans rebuild their lives by providing housing, job training, support services, and more.

Louisiana’s Veterans’ Affairs Honors Our Veterans

On Friday, October 30, four residents of our Veteran’s Transitional Housing, James Parker, Bill Bailey, Ronald LeBlanc, and William Thompson (pictured left to right in between Case Manager Christopher Randall and Veterans Program Director Randolph Macabitas), received awards at a ceremony hosted by the State of Louisiana’s Veterans’ Affairs department. In attendance at the event was Gov. Bobby Jindal, who spoke and handed out awards to veterans. Our Veterans’ Transitional Housing helps homeless veterans rebuild their lives by providing housing, job training, support services, and more. Congratulations James, Bill, Ronald & William, and thank you for your service to our country!