Harry S. Truman reportedly
said, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish, if you don’t care who gets the
credit.” That’s particularly good advice for volunteers looking to serve
veterans. According to the IRS, there are more than 45,000 veterans service
nonprofits in the United States today. Working together may be the only way to
solve problems for our nation’s veterans.
For advice on how to start and build good partnerships, we asked another Kansas City Elk member, Darrell Quinley, for his advice. As a Representative at both the Kansas City VA Medical Center and the St. Michael’s Center (which provides veterans with safe, stable housing), Quinley knows that partnerships are key to accomplishing goals. Here’s his wisdom, gleaned from years of volunteering for veterans and working as a funeral director.
Find as much common ground as you
can; family, children, activities, veterans in the family, etc.
Don’t take up a
great deal of their time at the onset. Ask for their business card and follow
up a few days later.
Don’t give up!
First or even second impressions may not be a true indication of future working
Be truthful, be
consistent, be prepared.
Try to always
take the high road on any contentious discussion, or better yet avoid them
complimentary. Thank them for what they
do. Find no fault in their operation.
Tell them you
have Elks members just waiting to help veterans.
Above all go in with a positive attitude. Your heart shares their heart, in the love of service to veterans.
Hello! My name is Brianna, and I work for the Elks National Veterans Service Commission as an Elks Scholar Fellow.
I recently had the privilege to be invited by the Elks National Foundation to come along as a chaperone on the Elks Scholar Service Trip in Biloxi, Mississippi. Two Elks Scholar Fellows and nineteen Elks Scholars traveled to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to give back to the community and say thank you to the Elks who helped make our scholarships possible. We worked on a variety of service projects that ranged from working with children at the Boys and Girls Club after-school program to environmental conservation efforts with the Mississippi Land Trust, clearing invasive species and trash from a local bayou. We had lots of fun and adventures, even running into a (friendly) alligator while kayaking and picking up trash in the Pascagoula River!
As the Elks Scholar Fellow for the National Veterans Service Commission, I was especially excited we were going to be able to visit the local VA hospital for one of our service days, serving side-by-side with Elks members from the Gulfport, Miss., Lodge No. 978 to spend some time with the veterans residing in long-term care.
After a special dinner hosted by Gulfport, Miss., Lodge No. 978, Elks Scholars worked with Lodge members to fill 100 gift bags with personal care supplies such as shampoo, lotion, and toothbrushes. These would be given as gifts the following day to veterans residing in the Community Living Center (CLC) at the VA.
Mississippi State Veterans Chair Craig Huch helped coordinate and set up the entire visit for us at the Gulf Coast Veterans Healthcare System the next day. We learned that the hospital expansion was built relatively recently, after Hurricane Katrina. We were impressed by how beautiful the buildings were and how innovative the design. It was also HUGE. The design of the Community Living Center is such that residents living there long-term are placed in a particular “neighborhood.” These neighborhoods are specially designed so that individual rooms branch off of a large common space or living area where residents can socialize and build community. Research shows that this structure improves residents’ health and wellbeing by promoting a healthy social life.
The Elks Scholars visited several CLC neighborhoods, including ones specifically for residents experiencing Alzheimer’s, dementia, and hospice. We were able to present Blu-Ray players to each of the 24 neighborhoods – a major Christmas gift from the Gulfport Lodge! These Blu-Ray players will provide great entertainment to the VA residents in their common spaces.
We also distributed the 100 gift bags full of personal care items to individual veterans and spent some quality time conversing with them. Several veterans took the time to pull out each item individually and appreciate the quality of the gifts. They told us that many groups had already brought them gifts closer to Christmas time, so they appreciated that we were able to space it out and come visit a few weeks later.
As a special token from the Gulfport Lodge, the Scholars also gave veterans small stars, cut out from American flags that were too worn to continue flying. We handed them out to the veterans with a special message thanking them for their service. Some, already familiar with the Gulfport Lodge and their service at the VA, had one in their rooms already; others seeing it for the first time were incredibly touched by the gesture and told us they would treasure it.
As many of our Elks Scholars will tell you, it was a privilege to be able to converse with many of the veterans about their families, their military experiences, their favorite pastimes, and (of course), their favorite sports teams!
One scholar learned that the veteran she was visiting had worked overnight shifts for United Airlines in San Francisco doing the very same job as her father! They talked at length, and the veteran encouraged the scholar to find her local Air Force recruiter and join, like him.
Another especially friendly and enthusiastic veteran, who had a motorized wheelchair and spunky ponytails, could only communicate with us using one word answers but did so with great energy and vibrance. We asked her about her military experience, and she told us, “Army! Army! Army!” When Craig joined us, greeting her by name fondly, he told us she was a regular at the Bingo events hosted by the Elks every month.
Yet another memorable veteran, 102 years old, complained that they had just made him put his car in storage – still sharp as ever, he looked no older than 75 and we had no doubt he would still able to drive if he had been allowed!
The scholars had a valuable experience meeting veterans from so many different backgrounds who were willing to share their stories with the younger generation and spend some time together. Many thanks to the Gulfport Elks and the Gulf Coast Veterans Healthcare System for facilitating this visit!
I was an employee of the Elks National Foundation for 6 years, and I’ve been a donor for longer. Now that I work at the Elks National Veterans Service Commission, nearly our entire budget comes in the form of a grant from the Elks National Foundation.
So, you could say I have many reasons to celebrate ENF Month. And you’d be correct.
My first job at the ENF was in the Donor Services department, which processes the donations that come in, maintains all donor records, and helps to ensure that every gift is acknowledged.
Often, donations would come in with jokes, notes and updates. Reading these was one of the joys of the job, and it helped to deepen my connection with our donors and supporters.
Donors like Roy aka Mouse Weichold who always sent in jokes with his donations. Mouse passed away a few years ago, but here’s one of his favorite jokes: Why are the streets of Paris lined with trees? So the Germans can march in the shade.
One such note really made an impact on me. It arrived with a $10 donation, and a note that said, “I’m retired and on a fixed income, so this is all I can give.”
That’s it. Just a short, simple note from a donor who was willing to sacrifice so he could contribute. If you’re strapped for cash, $10 can be a decent amount of money. It could buy a much-needed meal at a restaurant, a cup of coffee every day for a week, or a couple pieces of pie for you and a friend.
This Elk could have used that money to buy himself something he wanted or even needed, but instead he donated it. He trusted the Elks National Foundation to use those funds wisely. I don’t take that trust lightly. In fact, I’ve thought of that note often, when I was working for the Community Investments Program and now that I’m with the Elks National Veterans Service Commission.
It’s also a great reminder that in this day and age when the news is full of stories about millionaires and billionaires pledging vast sums of money, that it is regular people that have the power to make a difference in their communities.
The Elks National Foundation is powered by the donations and support of hundreds of thousands of those people, who believed in its mission over the past 90 years. Its programs are powered by those same people. I’m proud to call myself one of them.
Hi! My name is Brianna Bueltmann, and I am the new Elks Scholar Fellow for the Elks National Veterans Service Commission. I graduated from Harvard University in 2016 with a degree in Sociology and came to the Elks after two years of post-graduate travel and research. Immediately after college, I had a travel fellowship that allowed me to live in Ecuador, Colombia, Germany, and Italy for one year. More recently, I worked with the Poverty and Inequality Research Lab at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, doing sociology research on housing, landlords, families, and neighborhood change.
I was drawn to this fellowship because I am passionate about ending homelessness. Rural poverty has long been close to my heart, and volunteering in homeless shelters while studying sociology further opened my eyes to urban poverty and housing issues. Everyone deserves a home. Having worked as a case manager and directed a transitional housing program, I saw how many barriers to housing and gaps in service there were for people experiencing homelessness. The Elks have taken an innovative and entrepreneurial approach, stepping in to provide vital resources that don’t exist elsewhere and make a real difference in the lives of veterans and their families.
Most people think that homelessness could never happen to them, but the reality is that more than half of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and would be unable to handle a financial emergency if it happened to them. There are over 500,000 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in the United States, and it’s estimated that as many as 39,000 of them are veterans. On top of the widespread issue of finding affordable housing, veterans are especially vulnerable to experiencing homelessness because of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, and difficulty translating military skills into private sector careers.
In the National Veterans Service Scholar Fellow position, I help run the Welcome Home programs working to serve veterans in need. Our Emergency Assistance Fund helps keep veterans at risk of homelessness stably housed by providing a one-time grant for emergency assistance to get caught up on rent, provide security deposits for new apartments, keep gas and electricity turned on, and help veterans sustain meaningful employment.
Our Welcome Home Kit program helps veterans exiting homelessness and moving into permanent housing by connecting them with Elks members in their community to help provide furniture and basic household items like bedding, dishes, pots and pans, toiletries, and small kitchen appliances – the necessities anyone would need to get started in a new home.
As a part of the fellowship, I also get to work outside the office two days a week, volunteering at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center food pantry. We serve over 150 veterans in need every Tuesday by providing an array of robust groceries with many options for them to choose. I will also start volunteering Thursdays at a local Community Resource and Referral Center (CRRC), working closely with homeless veterans and their social workers.
I really appreciate how this fellowship gives me the opportunity to work directly with the veteran population we serve. Direct service helps keeps us grounded in our mission, and working more closely with social workers and veterans can help us learn more about how we can better meet their needs.
I am looking forward to my next two years with the Elks, excited to see the Welcome Home program develop even further and ready to work together to serve our veterans!
by Sancy Childers, Elks National Veterans Service Commission Scholar Fellow 2016-2018
Reflecting on my two-year fellowship at the Elks National Veterans Service Commission, I am filled with gratitude. I am thankful for this incredible opportunity, the support of my coworkers, and the ways in which this work allowed me to grow. I am humbled and proud of the work the ENVSC does on a daily basis and I truly do not think I would be where I am today without this opportunity.
Starting in July, I will be attending the University of California Davis School of Medicine. My experiences in this fellowship have helped shape my outlook on my future responsibilities as a physician.
My fellowship position focused on the Elks Welcome Home initiative aimed at helping end veteran homelessness in partnership with the Department of Veteran Affairs. When I began, the program was newly established enabling me to play a pivotal role in shaping an agenda that will have an impact on the lives of homeless and at-risk veterans for years to come.
This position gave me the opportunity to focus on my interest in healthcare for underserved communities and gain a unique perspective on this complex issue. As a physician I plan on serving vulnerable populations and the chance to work directly with these individuals has helped prepare me for medical school and my future responsibilities working in this field.
Throughout my fellowship position, my time was split between the Elks headquarters and the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago. While in the office, I coordinated a nationwide emergency assistance fund to help veterans and their families secure housing, remain housed, and pay essential utility bills. I also helped facilitate grants funding Elks member’s projects benefiting at risk veterans via Welcome Home Kits and Focus Grants.
“This experience was more challenging and worthwhile than anything I’ve done to date.”
When at the VA, I helped at a weekly pop-up food pantry, worked alongside the social workers serving the homeless, and volunteered in the Emergency Room. This experience was more challenging and worthwhile than anything I’ve done to date. I worked directly with this underserved population and I had the ability to really change their lives.
When I began this work, I was unprepared for the heart wrenching stories I would be hearing and the overwhelming feeling of knowing you made a meaningful impact on someone’s life. Early into my fellowship, a father of three young boys called to thank the Elks for helping him with a security deposit and cried while explaining that he had never given his three sons a proper bath.
This experience really stuck with me and put into perspective the work the ENVSC does. I was continuously humbled with the opportunity I had to serve these amazing men and women, and I am so thankful to have been a part of the team that is helping our nations hero’s get their lives back on track.
Recognizing the 100th birthday of a dedicated Elks volunteer
Charles C. Covucci, a long time ENVSC volunteer and convention exhibit coordinator, has set up our booth at the Elks National Convention with a passion that is unmatched.
He painstakingly unpacked uniforms, pictures and other kinds of memorabilia and displayed them all with care. Every item had a story, and Charlie knew them all.
His infectious laugh, mischievous ways and love of pranks made Charlie a star. Our members loved stopping by the booth to listen to Charlie’s stories, his unique perspectives on life, and above all, his great respect for all who served. Despite Charlie’s gregarious nature, he was always quick to point out who the real heroes are—our nation’s veterans.
In July 2006, Charlie was presented with a Special Citation by C. Valentine Bates, PGER at the National Convention in Orlando, Florida, for his 20 plus years of working the ENVSC booth.
In 2007, during the National Convention in Charlottesville, NC, at the young age of 89, Charlie retired and sold his personal collection to Tom Jamison, Playing Cards for Veterans Chair, for $1.00. To this day, Charlie’s items are respectfully displayed and admired by a new generation of Elks members at the ENVSC convention booth year after year.
Charlie is celebrating his 100th birthday in March of this year and is still making people laugh. He and his wife, Dottie live in a retirement community in Florida, where he presides over the pool as Lifeguard, Counselor and Ladies Man.
The ENVSC thanks Charlie for his many years of service, his deep admiration for our Veterans. We wish him and his family all the best, and we appreciate all the volunteers who give their time and energy to serve veterans like he does.
My name is Silvia Holman and I have been working for the Elks National Veterans Service Commission for almost 20 years.
This November, the ENVSC once again organized Elks HQ employees here at the Memorial Building to volunteer at the Chicago Standdown at the Illinois National Guard Northwest Armory. I volunteered for this event before, and I was thrilled to do so again.
The Chicago Standdown helps homeless veterans stock up on winter clothing and other supplies to help them get through the cold Chicago winters. Veterans in attendance also received a hot lunch, housing assistance, time to schedule appointments with VA staff, and more.
We’re always working to improve the services available, so this year there were barbers on site, and veterans could take home fresh produce. Elks made sure that each veteran who attended received a winter hat and warm fleece gloves. Elks Scholars also attended and handed out thank you cards made by local students.
Outside of the physical supplies available, veterans also had the chance to relax for the day and enjoy camaraderie with their fellow veterans in the big, warm Armory.
Every year, this is a very rewarding experience for me. At the event, I usually help veterans with their plates at the serving line. Often, they are carrying large plastic bags with donated items. Many are elderly or have disabilities and it is difficult to balance a plate and utensils.
I ask them what they want from the servers and carry their food and a beverage into the dining area where there are large sheet cakes waiting for dessert. I like to set their places as if they are in a restaurant, and I make sure they have everything they want. The smiles on their faces, their feelings of being safe and warm, if only for a little while, is humbling to all involved.
I feel as if I know many of these veterans. I hear and understand them because my husband is a Viet Nam Veteran. For me, volunteering at this event and serving these veterans is an honor, and immensely rewarding.
The next time you hear of a Veterans Standdown in your community, please volunteer to help out. You won’t regret it.
Want to support a Veteran who is going through a tough time?
Be There. Even simple actions can make a big difference.
We all can take action to help prevent suicide, but many people don’t know what they can do to support a Veteran in their life who’s going through a difficult time. During Suicide Prevention Month and year-round, help the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) let people know that preventing suicide starts with this simple act of support: Be There.
You don’t need to make a grand gesture: A simple act of kindness shows you care. You can call up an old friend, check in on a neighbor, cook someone dinner, or invite a colleague on a walk. You can also encourage Veterans to take time for themselves and to focus on their own health and wellness.
If you are worried about a Veteran who may be at risk for suicide, here’s what you can do to help connect them with treatment and support:
If you are concerned that a Veteran is in crisis or at immediate risk for suicide, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1. Caring, qualified VA responders can help you determine ways to keep someone safe and connect the Veteran you care about with support.
If you notice that a Veteran is going through a difficult time and aren’t sure how to start a conversation or how to connect them with support, contact VA’s Coaching into Care program. Call 1-888-823-7458 to connect with a licensed clinical social worker or psychologist who can help you figure out how to help motivate someone to get support.
Talk with the Veteran’s friends. Peer support, especially from others who have military experience, can be crucial in helping someone open up.
Encourage everyone, especially those going through a difficult time, to safely store their firearms. Watch VA’s gun safety video to learn more: VeteransCrisisLine.net/GunSafetyVideo
Letting a Veteran friend or loved one know you’re concerned about them may seem daunting, but know you can make a difference by starting a conversation. The most important thing is to show genuine, heartfelt support for someone going through a tough time and being there to help.
Prepare for the conversation.
When talking with someone about your concerns, try to keep these best practices in mind:
Listen more than you speak.
Maintain eye contact.
Act with confidence.
Use open body language.
Limit questions to casual information gathering.
Use supportive and encouraging comments.
Be as honest and upfront as possible.
Before you start a conversation, learn about suicide prevention and mental health resources that are available near you, so you can help connect a friend or loved one with treatment and support. Find contact information for your local VA medical center, Suicide Prevention Coordinator, and other resources such as counselors and treatment centers at VeteransCrisisLine.net/ResourceLocator.
Know when a crisis requires immediate action.
Everyone should be aware of signs of crisis that require immediate attention from a medical or mental health professional:
Thinking about hurting or killing oneself
Looking for ways to kill oneself
Talking about death, dying, or suicide
Self-destructive behavior, such as drug abuse or the dangerous use of weapons
If you notice these signs in yourself or a Veteran you care about, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or text to 838255 to get confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Wether you are concerned about a Veteran you know, or you want to make a difference to those in your community, spread the word that resources are available to help: Visit VeteransCrisisLine.net/BeThere to learn how you and others your community can Be There to prevent suicide, and download materials you can share at VeteransCrisisLine.net/SpreadTheWord.
*Article provided to the Elks for use by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, as part of their Suicide Prevention Month 2017 Partner Outreach.
“Our Lodge wants to help, but we can’t find any veterans in need.” Sound familiar? Our office fields this question from time to time, particularly in areas without a VA facility nearby. Here’s how to get started.
First, the VA operates thousands of facilities, and not all are hospitals. They run housing facilities for formerly homeless veterans, offsite clinics, benefits offices, and Vets Centers. Many of these facilities, especially Vets Centers, are located away from traditional VA campuses. Contact the staff at these facilities, and ask how the Elks can help.
Additionally, the VA has dozens of outreach programs in each facility, from adaptive sports programs to skills-based classes to financial counseling and more. Keep an open mind, and research where the needs are, even if it means leaving your comfort zone and changing what your Lodge has done in the past.
Then, search online for veterans organizations in your area. There are more than 45,000 veterans nonprofits registered in the United States. There may be some just around the corner that you don’t know about.
You can also search for city, county, regional or state veterans offices and let them know the Elks are there to serve veterans in need. Check for veterans meetings and gatherings on community calendars, and ask if you can stop by to say a few words about the Elks support for veterans.
Many large nonprofits, like the Salvation Army, Volunteers of America and even the YMCA have programs specifically for veterans, military members and their families. Reach out to these groups and see how your Lodge can work together with them.
Be aware that younger veterans are less likely to be a part of traditional veterans groups, and may be harder to connect with. Groups like the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, The Mission Continues and Team Rubicon rally younger veterans to meet in their communities for service activities and social gatherings. Check their websites to find the local contact in your area. You may also want to reach out to student veterans near you. If there is a community college or university near you, they may have a student veterans group or staff member responsible for veterans outreach.
Finally, work with what you have. Because of privacy laws, many organizations may not be able to share names. They can, however, share needs or ideas. And once your Lodge has built up some trust, they may be more willing to connect you with veterans directly.
In the non-profit world, the word support is often used and rarely defined. It’s a catch-all verb, and its casual use sometimes denotes a lack of action. People are content to share things on social media, slap a bumper sticker on their car or proudly declare their support, all without ever actually doing anything to advance that cause or solve that problem. The world of veterans’ service is no exception in this regard.
However, the Elks are part of an important program that counteracts this trend. Through the Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service program, or VAVS, hundreds of Elks are stationed in VA facilities across the nation, providing consistent, tangible service to the veterans who seek care there.
That’s no small feat. In the United States today, there are more than 21 million veterans, more than 9 million of whom receive health care at the VA. In a typical year, more than 6 million of those veterans visit a facility.
Nearly 60 years ago, the VA chose the words of Abraham Lincoln as their motto and mission, taken from a speech he’d given just weeks before his assassination. Lincoln charged the country with the responsibility “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”
That responsibility stands today. All kinds of veterans pass through the VA: young and old, male and female, rich and poor. They go seeking traditional healthcare, mental health treatment, physical therapy, assistance finding a home or even to learn an adaptive sport.
Through the VAVS program, Elks are stationed in places like VA Medical Centers, State Veterans Homes and even a few USOs across the country. These Elks host barbecues, organize job fairs, partner on Stand Downs, provide weekly recreation opportunities, offer much-needed trips out of the hospital, and provide friendship.
If you’re passionate about serving veterans, the VA is the perfect place to do so. We are always looking for VAVS Representatives to promise monthly visits, and Deputy Representatives to partner with them. More volunteers means the opportunity to expand services and reach out to new groups of veterans, helping us to serve groups like female veterans, homeless veterans, and the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans whose numbers are increasing every day.
Your time and talents are needed. Millions of veterans are counting on you.
To learn more about the Elks VAVS program, visit our webpage. To get involved, contact the Veterans office today to learn about VAVS volunteer opportunities near you. You can reach us at 773-755-4736, or Vets@elks.org.