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Two veterans enrolled in national service through the ALA Call to Service Corps have made a difference in the lives of dozens of servicemembers and veterans across the country at their service assignments with USA Cares.
Justin Chattoo and Jason Kennedy are AmeriCorps members assigned to USA Cares, an organization dedicated to the restoration of financial stability and self-sufficiency among those in the military community needing “a hand up, not a hand-out.” The organization operates principally by providing obligation-free grants to those under financial duress. These grants cover a variety of needs, ranging from travel expenses for those attending distant job interviews, emergency financial resources for mandatory car and housing payments, living expenses for those recovering in VA care and much more. USA Cares also provides extensive job location assistance.
Chattoo, a Marine Corps veteran, and Kennedy, a Kentucky Army National Guardsman who has been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and post-Katrina New Orleans, play pivotal roles in USA Cares’ Jobs and Emergency Assistance programs.
As the Jobs Resource Coordinator for the Job Assistance Program, Chattoo helps match veterans, servicemembers, National Guardsmen and reservists with potential jobs. He is also responsible for the assessment and evaluation of financial grant applications from newly employed veterans who need a small floater to reach their first paycheck.
Chattoo has enjoyed his term of service so far, and is proud to make an impact on the lives of his fellow veterans.
“I believe in the mission and organization,” he said. “Veterans need a hand-up, not a hand-out. A lot of these places give them a loan and that’s it – they’re done with them. USA Cares makes sure they can stand on their feet.”
Kennedy recently completed his AmeriCorps service term as the Family Resource Coordinator for USA Cares’ Emergency Assistance Program. Like Chattoo, he is responsible for assessment and evaluation of grant applications from those in need of cost-of-living related emergency assistance. Individuals in danger of missing car or electricity payments, for example, are common clients, as are those with military pay issues, evictions and other unforeseen issues. Many of his clients also struggle with behavioral health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.
Kennedy has assisted veterans from Alaska to Puerto Rico through his service, and has found the experience rewarding.
“It’s been kind of an eye opener,” he said. “I knew there was a lot of hardship out there, [but] I had no idea about the actual number that struggle with hardship. It’s mind-blowing.”
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Founded in 2008, Blue Star Families has rapidly emerged as a prominent and visible organization serving the military community. It has attracted the attention of public figures such as first lady Michelle Obama and has become an integral partner to the White House’s Joining Forces military and veteran support initiative.
A signature program of Blue Star Families (BSF) is Operation Honor Corps. The program is managed by Michelle Vaughn, an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving Blue Star Families through the American Legion Auxiliary Call to Service Corps.
“When I first got here, [Operation Honor Corps] was pretty basic,” Vaughn said. “It just tracked hours, which didn’t really produce tangible results.”
Since she has taken the charge of the project, Operation Honor Corps has transformed into a robust tool to recruit, measure, record and advertise the contributions of volunteers nationwide.
There are three major components of Operation Honor Corps. The first involves the “Honor Wall,” which serves as a visual representation of the Honor Corps ethos. The wall is set up and staffed by Michelle Vaughn at events throughout Washington, D.C. “Honor Cards” are circulated at Honor Wall events. In the cards, attendees can pledge service hours for the coming year and record their particular service areas of interest (such as military families, veterans, or homelessness and others). These pledged hours are later aggregated and recorded on the Joining Forces website and the Honor Wall. Recent events to feature the Honor Wall include the White House Holiday Tour, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on the National Mall, and the American Legion Auxiliary’s Washington DC Conference.
The second major component of Operation Honor Corps involves coordination with partner organizations in support of major service projects. Operation Honor Corps is currently engaged in four collaborative projects including the National Military Family Association’s “MyMilitaryLife” smartphone app.
The final component of Operation Honor Corps involves the collection of pledged volunteer hours from organizations. These hours are aggregated and highlighted on the Joining Forces website. Once a month, Vaughn discusses the efforts of a high-achieving organization in the monthly Operation Honor Corps newsletter, which she writes, organizes and distributes.
Vaughn’s success with Operation Honor Corps will likely remain her most enduring legacy as an AmeriCorps VISTA. However, her favorite project so far remains a Christmas party she organized at Walter Reed.
“Close to 200 veterans and families came out,” she said. “We had a Santa Claus, and every kid walked away with a Christmas present. It was a great day for our wounded warriors.”
AmeriCorps VISTA Member Helps Code of Support Foundation Generate Public Support for Military and Veterans April 29, 2013Posted by servicecorpsnews in Accomplishment Spotlight.
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AmeriCorps VISTA member Chelsea Hilton, who serves through the American Legion Auxiliary Call to Service Corps, plays a lead role in assisting the Code of SupportFoundation implement its public awareness and service generation programs.
Hilton was a vital asset to the organization’s successful “A Musical VetStravaganza,” a concert designed to raise awareness of the organization’s Veterans Hiring & Education Initiative.
The concert, held on February 17at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium, featured country stars Mark Wills and David Kroll, as well as the West Point Cadet and Alumni Glee Clubs, the Homefire Military Wives’ Choir and the 4Troops Veteran Quartet. The event was an overwhelming success, with a sold-out audience of more than 1,500 in attendance.
Prior to the concert, the Code of Support Foundation held a reverse hiring fair to advocate for veterans and military spouses. Local employers attended an information session where they discussed the myriad benefits of hiring from within the veteran and military community relative to civilian employees. The end result was a more informed group of employers, many of whom reported being more likely to hire veterans and military spouses as a result of the session.
Hilton was integral to the planning and execution of the concert and reverse hiring fair. She created event invitations, compiled veteran and military spouse hiring resources for distribution to local employers and concert attendees, conducted social media outreach for the VetStravaganza, engaged local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, and researched attending organizations.
“I was a little nervous because it was my first event,” Hilton said. “But it turned out really well. We had great turnout, and I’ve heard great things from the attendees.”
Hilton has since moved on to new projects, foremost among them the Code of Support Foundation’s annual Flag Day Give-Back-24 Challenge. The Challenge will include a series of service projects designed to bring military and civilian families together. Hilton is currently in the process of identifying potential projects, preparing tools to facilitate the process for attendees and researching potential partner organizations.
Alumni Spotlight: Ruby Liang April 29, 2013Posted by servicecorpsnews in Alumni Spotlight.
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Ruby Liang recently completed a term of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA member assigned to the Military Officers Association of America through the American Legion Auxiliary Call to Service Corps. In her assignment as a Community Blueprint Network support specialist, Ruby coordinated MOAA national level support and communications to three MOAA chapters leading Community Blueprint efforts in their respective communities. In addition, she provided information to chapters responding to MOAA national efforts to initiate additional Community Blueprint sites nationwide. Prior to joining the Call to Service Corps, Ruby held positions with the Peace Corps and the Department of Homeland Security. Ruby holds a Bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, San Diego.
1. What motivated you to serve as an AmeriCorps member?
Ever since high school, I have been an active participant in community service. I am passionate about public service and helping those in need. Thus, AmeriCorps had always been something I was considering. After graduating from college in 2012, I thought it would be a good time to serve as an AmeriCorps member while trying to determine my future career path.
2. What motivated you to choose your sponsor organization?
I chose my sponsor organization based on its mission and location. I knew I wanted to join the military as a reservist, and I have always had an interest in veterans’ affairs. The Military Officers Association of America was therefore a perfect match, as it advocates for the rights of those that are currently serving or have served in the past.
3. Do you feel that you achieved your personal goals as an AmeriCorps member?
I do feel that I achieved my personal goals as an AmeriCorps member. I learned a lot about military communities and culture, which has also raised my awareness of military issues in general. My time with AmeriCorps also enabled me to figure out what kind of career I would like to pursue after my service term. I confirmed my decision to join the U.S. Air Force and pursue a career in the public sector. Being an AmeriCorps member has taught me to appreciate the value of community service and people’s sacrifices. I have definitely matured during my service year and certainly gained useful skills.
4. Are you particularly proud of any accomplishments from your service year? If so, can you explain why?
Even though my assigned project, the Community Blueprint, is something that requires a long period of time before I can see the results, I am proud to be part of it because I can see the progress I have made during the past year. The progress is slow, but I could see the impact I have made. I am proud that I have put in the effort to assist the military community, which will not end after my service year; it is something that I will continue to do. Since I am the first AmeriCorps member serving at my sponsor organization, I am proud to have accomplished the initial stage of the Community Blueprint. I think I made a great start to the project and hopefully this will be beneficial to the future AmeriCorps members coming on board.
5. What are your future plans after your AmeriCorps service year?
I will be going through a few months of military training as I have joined the U.S. Air Force as a reservist. Beside the Air Force reserve, I plan on pursuing a career in the public sector.
Accomplishment Spotlight: Call to Service Corps Members Support Wounded Warriors and their Families March 28, 2013Posted by servicecorpsnews in Accomplishment Spotlight.
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Operation Homefront is a national veteran service organization based in San Antonio, Texas. Through widespread public support and a collaborative team of staff and volunteers, Operation Homefront aspires to be the provider of choice for emergency financial and other assistance to wounded warriors, veterans and military families.
One major way Operation Homefront supports the military is through its transitional housing program, collectively referred to as “OH Villages.” These Villages are congregate residences for wounded warriors and their families. The servicemembers and their families live in the facilities rent-free while they rehabilitate from war injuries and prepare for return to civilian life. The Villages are located near the principal military treatment facilities for wounded warriors.
Services offered at OH Villages include case management, support groups, benefits briefings, and resume writing classes. Counselors also check in every thirty days to ensure that the tenants understand their financial situations, to discuss the transition process, to review attendance at the aforesaid activities, and to determine whether residents still present adequate need for the Village.
In 2012, Operation Homefront recruited three AmeriCorps National members to expand the capacity of each of its OH Village sites: Brandy Lawrence, assigned to the OH Village in San Antonio, Texas; Taneeshna Harrington, assigned to the OH Village in Oceanside, California; and Sarah Kline, assigned to the OH Village in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Brandy Lawrence has played a pivotal role in many of the functions native to the OH Villages. She is also responsible for event planning, and recently planned and executed two large service projects for the 2012 holidays. Lawrence solicited donations from local groups and organizations, receiving items such as food baskets, gift cards, laundry baskets, storage containers and much more, each of which she repackaged as a holiday gift. She also organized the office Christmas party, which brought Village families together to decorate trees and enjoy the season together.
Lawrence, who in addition to her other duties assists with the day-to-day operation of the Village also manages the organization’s social media presence, was effusive about her service experience. “It’s been a great opportunity,” she says. “The leadership here is absolutely amazing, and so are the residents.”
Sarah Kline has been similarly influential during her time with Operation Homefront. She spearheaded the launch of a new program in her Village, titled “Homework Help,” which, as its name implies, involves tutoring resident children and ensuring they receive the academic support needed to excel. “Kids come after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” says Kline. “[They receive help with their homework] and get time to socialize with their peers.” In the words of one teacher, the program has “helped tremendously.”
Kline, like Lawrence, has found her service to be rewarding. “I absolutely love Operation Homefront. …I feel like I do something different every day. I work with servicemembers and their families and help with whatever they need.”