My name is Rene Villalobos. I am currently a new Program Associate for the Elk National Veterans Service Commission and am fitting in nicely with the team. I am a 5-year active-duty combat veteran of the Marine Corps, with two deployments to Afghanistan and travel on ships to a few other countries during my service. I was an artilleryman during my time in and wouldn’t trade it for any other job besides helping my fellow veterans out now that I am out.
Since getting out back in 2012, I have dedicated my time to volunteering and working in nonprofits that help veterans from homeless shelters to mentorship programs to disabled veterans’ programs. I have a degree from Northeastern Illinois University for Social justice and Substance Abuse Counseling, and I am currently pursuing my graduate degree at night, studying Clinical Mental Health Counseling so I can better support the veteran community and individuals with PTSD.
Being a disabled veteran, I find it one of my duties to help other veterans in need. That is one of the reasons I find myself in the current position I am in right now. I am currently the point of contact for the Welcome Home Kit program that helps veterans transition into homes with essentials they may not be able to afford. This program is an amazing one where lodges can support veterans with things like beds, furniture, food, clothing, dishes, and cleaning supplies. The support our lodges give veterans in this program is truthfully heartwarming.
Another program I am a part of is the Freedom Grant program where lodges can apply for funds to serve local veterans in need. These grants help Lodges serve veterans facing homelessness, active-duty veterans on deployment, veterans’ families, veterans in nursing homes, and more. Through this program, I have seen so many great projects to support veterans in each lodge’s communities. (Read about big changes to the Freedom Grant program in 2022-23! Applications go online April 1.)
The final program I am currently working with is the Elks Emergency Assistance Fund program. I am currently the point of contact for Chicago and Miami. This fund is one that is set up to be a one-time assistance fund for veterans who are at risk of homelessness. In this program, I get to work with HUD-VASH Social Workers to help veterans receive assistance with their bills such as rent, utilities, security deposits, and other needs. This is a program that goes a long way to help veterans in dire need of safe housing.
I am blessed to be working for such a great organization where I can bring my skills as a veteran to help the community. I look forward to building relationships with community partners and Elks to provide the best assistance for veterans that need our support.