My name is Brianna Bueltmann, and I am an Elks Scholar Fellow. For the last two years, I’ve had the privilege of working for the Elks National Veterans Service Commission to serve veterans through the Welcome Home program. I was drawn to work for the ENVSC specifically because of the Elks’ commitment to help end veteran homelessness.
Since I started with the Elks in June 2018, we’ve helped fulfill over 1600 requests for emergency assistance in 8 cities across the country, and 175 Lodges have provided kits of home supplies for more than 3185 newly housed veterans.
It’s been incredible to see the passion of our volunteers as they get involved in the Welcome Home program, specifically through Welcome Home Kits. Elks build relationships with veterans as they shop for basic household supplies to help newly housed veterans turn an empty apartment into a home. For many, the experience is eye-opening and transformative. Elks jump into action to involve the whole community and find out how else they help their local veterans in need.
By far one of our most popular programs, Welcome Home Kit program has grown over 100% in the last two years. Even through the COVID-19 pandemic, our volunteers have adapted and found ways to make sure veterans are still receiving home supplies so they don’t have to quarantine in an empty house. Whether that’s shopping online to deliver supplies to the veteran’s door or FaceTiming a veteran to watch them unpack their new gifts with excitement, Elks find a way to get the job done. The hardest part of my job is convincing Elks when they have to say “no.”
One of the very exciting additions to our program this past year has been being able to reimburse additional funds to buy veterans beds. We’ve seen too many photos from veterans’ homes of coffee tables pushed together to form a makeshift bed. Every veteran deserves a place to lay their head.
For millions of Americans, especially those on a fixed income or living paycheck to paycheck, it only takes one unexpected life event for a family to find themselves on the brink of homelessness. But it often takes only a small amount of assistance to make a huge difference.
Although eligible veterans can apply for up to $2500 through the Elks Emergency Assistance Fund, the average amount requested to secure housing is only $1570. In the last two years, we’ve been able to prevent homelessness for hundreds of veterans by assisting with crucial needs like security deposits and overdue utility bills.
Having read hundreds of applications for assistance, I can tell you that the majority of our veterans at greatest risk of homelessness are elderly and/or disabled. An extremely limited, fixed income doesn’t leave a lot of room for things to go wrong. And for veterans already dealing with health conditions, the stress of a looming eviction can trigger both psychological and physical symptoms, from PTSD to Crohn’s disease.
“It wasn’t just a load off my mind,” said former Marine Thomas, explaining how he felt when he received Elks assistance. “It actually made a physical difference in how I felt. It was a very big deal.”
We’ve been able to help families like Phil and Amy’s, whose lives turned upside down after being hit with a medical emergency, a car accident, and the loss of two full-time jobs all at the same time. More than just money, Elks assistance gave them peace of mind and wellbeing, a heavy burden lifted off their relationship. For the first time in five years, they were able to get caught up on their bills by Christmastime and finally give their children the gifts they deserved.
We’ve gotten to help people like Daniel, a Marine Corps veteran and single father of 6, who works 60 hours a week to provide for his family and still finds time to help his kids with their homework.
Or Rose, another former Marine and single parent, raising twin 11-year-old girls, coping with PTSD and fibromyalgia while working as an entrepreneur to empower other women to overcome obstacles and build careers that are right for their families and their lives.
“I would say that you have a chance to be a catalyst in somebody’s life,” Rose said, about Elks whose gifts make the Emergency Assistance Fund possible. “It’s a butterfly effect. Why wouldn’t you want to be that catalyst or that spark?”Now, through the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been able to help veterans keep their homes and keep the lights turned on in spite of widespread job loss and financial insecurity.
I know our members don’t get to meet all the veterans we help or hear how their donations affect veterans’ lives, but as someone who does get to see behind the scenes, I can tell you that the impact is huge. Even though I won’t be working for the Elks anymore, I’ll be donating, participating, and rooting for the success of this program. After seeing how the Elks have been able to address a seemingly insurmountable problem like veteran homelessness, I can’t wait to see what the Elks take on next.