Finding hope at the New England Center for Veterans

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Each month I receive an email from my DAR chapter requesting volunteers to serve dinner at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans. I’m always taken aback by those two words – homeless and veteran. It is appalling that these brave men and women, who’ve risked everything for their country, are reduced to such dire circumstances. Thankfully, the NECHV provides hope and help for them, and also offers many opportunities for the public to support their efforts.

Located near the Old State House in downtown Boston, the NECHV is one of the nation’s largest private providers of housing, health, and employment services for homeless and at-risk veterans. The organization was founded twenty-five years ago by a group of Vietnam veterans who were alarmed at the growing rate of homelessness among their ranks.

Often suffering from PTSD, many former servicemen and women have difficulties reintegrating into society. Some are plagued by mental illness and addiction, while others face limited job prospects because their military skills are not easily transferrable to civilian professions. Many frail senior veterans also have trouble meeting basic living expenses. Their situation is exacerbated by the loneliness and isolation that often accompany old age.

The NECHV is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help these deserving people. Over 350 veterans reside at the center each night, and over 130,000 meals are served every year. The center also helps 1,000 veterans complete their vocational training programs each year, and assists over 400 to find permanent homes.

(Courtesy of NECHV)

(Courtesy of NECHV)

Their Veterans Training School offers free life skills training, financial planning, and job assistance. The NECHV also runs a Veterans Health Center, which provides free on-site medical care. In addition to these laudable programs, the NECHV offers help with individual recovery programs and support services for veteran families.

The Community Relations Coordinator, Charles Beck, gave suggestions about supporting the center:

“The most effective way that people can contribute their time and resources is to keep in touch with us via our website, social media, and newsletters. Real time information is continuously delivered about new center projects, the renovation, and the work being done by community members to support veterans. Another way is to consider contributing to the center monetarily, as it ensures our programs continue to be delivered to veterans in need.”

The center also has many volunteer opportunities for both individuals and groups. Peggy O’Connor, DAR volunteer coordinator at the NECHV, knows first-hand how rewarding it is to serve homeless vets. The group recently held a commemorative ceremony for Vietnam War veterans. Ms. O’Connor described their reactions as they stepped forward to receive their pins and awards:

“One veteran proudly came forward saying that he served between 1951 and 1973. When he went to sit down, he was gazing at his pin with a thoughtful look. When we approached him, he had a tear in his eye. He said very quietly that he was thinking of his buddies who didn’t make it back. I asked if he thought a candlelight vigil would be helpful as a remembrance for those who didn’t return. He looked up at me and said he would love that.”

(Courtesy photo)

(Courtesy photo)

Many of the veterans were happy to have their Vietnam service remembered. O’Connor recounted another poignant story:

“When the veterans returned from service, they had no thanks or even support to assist them in dealing with the horrors of the Vietnam War. One veteran came up towards the end of the ceremony. After being pinned, he told us that his buddy was also a Vietnam veteran. In fact, he was at the embassy in Saigon during the evacuation. He wanted to stay back and allow some of those at the gate to leave in his place. His commanding officer pointed a gun at him and told him to get on the helicopter, so he did. I asked if he wanted to take the pin and other items back with him to give to him. He said that he didn’t think his friend would want it. Just as we were leaving, a veteran came down and asked if he could still get a pin. He was pinned and thanked. I am not sure, but he may have been this veteran. It was truly a moving experience. All of the residents, young and old, got into the spirit. The mottos of the day were “Better late than never” and “it’s about time!”

(Courtesy photo)

(Courtesy photo)

There will be a number of festivities at the NECHV for Veterans Day. Mr. Beck also noted that many Boston area restaurants offer veterans and active military members a free or reduced-cost meal on the holiday:

“Many of our veteran residents go out to get these meals, and when they come back, they always have big smiles on their faces.”

The New England Center for Homeless Veterans is located on 17 Court Street, Boston.

For general donation inquiries, contact [email protected]. For questions regarding volunteer service opportunities or Gift-a-Vet, contact [email protected].

Contact Mary McCleary at [email protected]