IMG_14234Good Friday is one of those special days in which Volunteers of America Colorado has the chance to meet the most basic needs of hundreds of the homeless and needy who are the most difficult to serve. For years, Volunteers of America together with The Denver Rescue Mission have been inviting anyone in need to the Lawrence Street Shelter for the annual Good Friday service.

This year was another fantastic success. Over 600 people came to the shelter to attend services and eat lunch, including so many of the seniors living in Volunteers of America’s Sunset Towers.

Guests started lining up early for the meal, the services, and the brand new pair of socks and tennis shoes that everyone left with. However, the thing that amazes onlookers the most every year is the foot washing. Every person who walked in the door had the opportunity to have their feet washed by a volunteer- yes, people volunteered to get on their hands and knees and wash others feet for the afternoon.

IMG_14333After having their feet washed, those with feet aliments were able to see an onsite podiatrist. With clean and cared for feet, guests picked out a pair of top of the line tennis shoes provided by Runners Roost.

Many families attended the event together and it was especially fun to see the children’s excitement about receiving Easter baskets full of goodies.

This is a wonderful day for the guests, a special opportunity for volunteers and a touching act of service for our neighbors in need!

UntitledEaster is around the corner and Volunteers of America Colorado is gearing up. There is one division that is getting especially excited about giving back during the Easter season, the youth and family volunteers.

Saturday, families and young people who want to serve are hosting a breakfast and Easter egg hunt at the Bannock Youth Center. The Bannock Youth Center helps 18 to 24-year-olds through two supportive housing programs that provide rental assistance to homeless youth and young mothers.

Having a place to go during any holiday will be a comforting to these young people who live independently, especially those with children. Moms will get to bring their children to hunt Easter eggs and celebrate Easter family-style. Youth and family volunteers are expecting 45 kids to be a part of this year’s Easter egg hunt.

The cycle of families helping families and youth helping youth continues throughout the year.

Next month, youth volunteers with be returning to Bannock to put on a graduation celebration. High school-age volunteers who are a part of the “Action Team” host an annual celebration for those apart of Bannock’s housing programs who are graduating.

These youth and family volunteer programs are led by one of the newest members of the Volunteers of America team, Chris Battelli. Chris, a native of Golden, CO and graduate of Colorado State University, recently joined Volunteers of America.

For more information about these and other youth and family volunteering programs, contact Chris, 303-297-0408 or CBattelli@voacolorado.org.

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Whitney Whitson and daughters Kaylee (left) and Natalie (right) in the courtyard of their current home, Volunteers of America Brunetti Lofts. With the help of the Brunetti Lofts program, Whitson just purchased her first home.

 

Five years ago, 19-year-old Whitney Whitson had a baby on each hip and nowhere to go. Now, 25 years old with an education, a career and two beautiful daughters, Whitson will be closing on her first home Monday thanks to help she found with Volunteers of America.

“I wanted better for my kids. I wanted the cycle to stop with me,” Whitson said.

After having her second daughter at age 19, Whitson was forced to leave her mother’s house and found a transitional housing program for single parents, Warren Village. There she worked hard to learn parenting skills, give her girls quality education, and begin a stable career in medical administration.

When it came time to leave transitional housing and live on her own, the home she found turned out not to be the kind of environment she dreamed of for her daughters.

“It wasn’t that the homes were bad, or made you not want to live there, it was the people. They would let their kids run crazy, cussing at 7-years-old.

“There was a lot of domestic violence there. You don’t even get involved and a girl will run to your door because she can see your light on which, of course, will cause the man to follow her,” Whitson said, “And that is just not what I wanted at all.”

At just the right time in her life, Whitson was referred to Volunteers of America Brunetti Lofts, a residential program aimed at homeownership. Residents living at Volunteers of America Brunetti Lofts are offered an income-based rent for their one to three bedroom apartment in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood. This allows the apartment’s 23 renters to save money and plan for home buying.

“The homeownership piece is huge,” Kirsten Strietzel, Family Service Manager at Brunetti Lofts, said as she described that most residents at Brunetti Lofts have come from transitional housing situations.

While living a Brunetti, residents get the opportunity to participate in classes on finance, budgeting and the home buying process. Residents are given a gift of $7,000 from Volunteers of America to combine with the savings they build during their time at Brunetti Lofts and put towards their down payment on a house.

Brunetti Lofts offers more than just financial support and classes, Strietzel is there for residents as they are making huge life changes. Whitson described bringing Strietzel and a family advocate from Warren Village along to her first open house.

“I was nervous…I didn’t know what questions to ask,” Whitson said, “They were also really helpful because I live here on my own; I don’t have any family here.”

“We will definitely go and ask those questions and be supportive,” Strietzel said.

Whitson’s house is a new three bedroom house and is a part of Denver’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program.  Whitson says her new home is in a community where her kids can play outside and she can enjoy the neighborhood.

Whitson’s success story embodies her determination and how a helping hand from organizations like Volunteers of America Colorado Branch, or Warren Village and other Volunteers of America partners, can help make the seemingly untouchable dreams a reality.

“I don’t want to say I don’t have any more goals in my life but I already have a career, I have been to college, I am buying a home. At this point I just want to do the best by my kids and raise them the way they deserve to be raised,” Whitson said, “I want to show my kids that it is possible and if you keep working hard and doing your best every day that you will succeed.”

Whitson would tell you that most of her dreams have come true; they just came in a little bit different order than she expected.

 If you would like more information about Brunetti Lofts or Volunteers of America, please visit www.voacolorado.org.

Of those who find themselves homeless in the United States, 12 percent are veterans, according to the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans.

IMG_1295I got to wear another hard hat at Volunteers of America! Recently, I had the chance to tag along with the Volunteers of America staff serving on our Veteran Services division for a tour of the new Veteran Service Center.

The Veteran Service Center is an over $2 million renovation project that Volunteers of America has taken on in order to create a central location for veterans and their families to receive support and services.

Walking through the building with the staff that will be on the ground serving people was a great experience.  Everyone was envisioning where they would be working, where they would receive veterans and how simply being under one roof with other veteran-serving organizations will make it possible to more quickly and effectively get our veterans the support they need.

Identify the various meeting spaces and offices wasn’t too difficult; the drywall was up and the space was really taking shape.  While the project seemed close to completion and the May finish date is fast approaching, there is still fundraising to be done to make this center a reality.

IMG_1285Once Volunteers of America moves in, the idea is that other service member and veteran-serving organizations would co-locate at the site. Though there has been great efforts by the community to offer support for veterans, unfortunately, many veterans struggle to access those services. Having all veteran services in a central location will help break down the barriers to getting help.

The center will be a one-stop-shop for services such as Housing, Employment, Legal Services, Education, Mental Health, VA Benefits, Public Benefits, Volunteering, Peer Support and Financial Literacy.

On our drive back after the tour I found out that the building at 1247 Santa Fe Dr. was given to Volunteers of America years ago and, with some renovations, has turned out to be the perfect location for the Veteran Service Center. Veteran Services staff pointed out that it is centrally located in Denver and is near a Light Rail station, even further reducing the barriers of access to great services for veterans and their families.

Spending time with the Volunteers of America Veteran Services staff, touring the new building with them and learning more about this project, it is clear to me that this is an amazing mission and something our state, and every state, really needs.

FIND OUT MORE:

To find out more about veteran services at volunteers of America, CLICK HERE to visit our website.

If you would like to give to the Veteran Service Center project, CLICK HERE TO DONATE ONLINE.

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Volunteers of America Veterans Services staff pose after touring their new offices.

Sarah Sadler
PR and Marketing Specialist
Voluteers of America Colorado

How a hot meal and some smiling faces can mean the world to Colorado seniors

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This is Clarence. He is 101 years old and he is still living in his home because of Volunteers of America Meals-On-Wheels. After 15 years as a Meals-on-Wheels client, the food delivered to him by Volunteers of America Meals-on-Wheels is still making it possible for Clarence to stay in his home and do the things he loves, like picking apples from the tree in his backyard.

Meals-On-Wheels staff members Kathy and Brooke told me about Clarence when they sat down to give me the Meals-on-Wheels low-down. Every day Meals-on-Wheels delivers and serves about 3,500 meals, which are made in the Volunteers of America kitchen and designed by a Volunteers of America Dietician. Approximately 1,000 volunteers deliver meals, greeting seniors and taking the meals directly into their houses.

Clarence is like many other homebound seniors who simply can’t make the nutritious meals that they need. For too many Meals on Wheels clients, the food that is delivered to them is the only meal they will eat in a day.

Meals-on-Wheels depends on volunteers and if there weren’t volunteers to make those deliveries some seniors literally wouldn’t eat, Kathy told me. There is currently a waiting list of people who need meals delivered, however there are not enough volunteers to deliver those routes.

Getting that meal, which provides 1/3 of daily dietary needs, is so important to maintaining clients quality of life, however the boosts to their spirits may be just as important. Brooke described how the food stops mattering as much to clients as the friendship they build with the volunteers delivering the meals.

Brooke gave me a little glimpse of what Meals-on-Wheels volunteers are saying:

“I frequently hear “you make my day” as I am many times the only person they see all day.”

“One of the ladies I see every week has trouble getting to the door and when she comes, she always has a big smile and she asks me to take her meal to the table because she can’t carry it with her walker. I’ll often say, “I hope you enjoy your meal today.” Her response is, “I know I will. Do you know why I know? Because I didn’t have to cook it!” Then a big smile! What an encouragement it is to me to see these folks every week!”

“I have a client who’s 98 years old and a poet. She invited me in so that she could share one of her poems with me. It was quite good and helped me to understand that I don’t serve “clients”, I have an opportunity to spend a few minutes with friends each week”

After hearing more stories than I can fit in this post, it was clear that Volunteers of America Meals-on-Wheels is such an important program that so many seniors rely on and is a program that is 100% dependent on people being willing to volunteer.

There are several ways to support Volunteers of America Meals-on-Wheels:

  1. TAKE A ROUTE: Taking a delivery route and helping Volunteers of America shrink the waiting lists of seniors needing meals is the most hands on way you can help. If this is something you want to do, email Brooke the Volunteer Coordinator, beastman@voacolorado.org.
  2. DONATE: $30 provides a whole week of meals for a homebound senior. Any donation you make to Volunteers of America will help ensure Meals-On-Wheels keeps running.

BlogPhotoPreschoolers and construction sites might not seem to go well together but are both full of organized chaos and are what filled my first day on the job as the new PR and Marketing Specialist for Volunteers of America Colorado. As someone new to Colorado and new to Volunteers of America, I had no idea what to expect my first day.

We started the day at Head Start, a program that gives low income or disadvantaged children, ages 3-5, the preparation they need to begin school. I watched as enthusiastic 3-year-olds dressed up in aprons and oven mitts, painted “abstract” watercolors and mixed together their own snacks to take home. The kids ran from play center to play center, all the while patient and caring teachers seamlessly transitioned from English to Spanish and gently reminded the students to wait their turn. Their school day ended with a warm lunch that filled the borrowed church gym with the smell of melted cheese and tomato soup.

Just down the road, exposed to the bitter cold, we visited a soon-to-be complete brick building full of just as much excitement as the preschool. This busy construction site is where Head Start will soon call their first permanent home. Some generous corporate donors, Volunteers of America staff and I strapped on hard hats and explore the new facility that will allow Head Start to reach even more kids and give the community a place to gather.

My first day on the job was anything but traditional however I am beginning to see how meeting the needs of the community, as Volunteers of America tirelessly does, will constantly look different. For instance, I met a senior volunteering at Head Start who values and benefits from her work as much as the preschoolers benefit from being a part of the program. Similarly, the wonderful corporate donors who toured with us were incredibly appreciative to help the community and wanted even more opportunities for their employees to be involved.

It is such a thrill to join the Development Team at Volunteers of America, have the opportunity to see every day the ways the organization is caring for the people of Colorado and watch as Volunteers of America inspires the community to pitch in. I most look forward to discovering all of the incredible stories happening because of Volunteers of America employees, donors, volunteers and friends in need.

Sarah Sadler
PR and Marketing Specialist
Voluteers of America Colorado

 

VOA logo 2014 flush left_tagMy name is Mallory and I am a dietetic intern working with the Healthy Aging Department at Volunteers of America. I worked with Volunteers of America this fall for five weeks, and now I am back again for four more weeks. Working with Volunteers of America has been a very rewarding and unique experience. I have helped with Steps to Healthy Aging and Matter of Balance classes, been a part of nutrition counseling sessions, made handouts and held information sessions for popular nutrition topics, helped with Meals on Wheels, and more. The Steps to Healthy Aging is a class that the Healthy Aging Department offers that combines nutrition and exercise. I enjoyed teaching a few nutrition classes because the participants were so interested and willing to learn new ideas and concepts. Matter of Balance is a class that helps seniors prevent falls through exercise and discussion.

This class is not related to nutrition, but was very eye opening for me to help out with because I never realized how the fear of falling really affected people’s lives. Many of the participants talk about how they do not go certain places because of bad sidewalks or stairs that they would have to climb. One lady mentioned she can’t even go across the street because she can’t make it to the other side before the crosswalk time runs out and she doesn’t want to fall or get hit. It has also been very rewarding to help the dietitian, Molly, counsel clients. There have been a few curve balls thrown in sessions, so it has been very helpful to go along with a professional and see how they would handle certain situations.

It has been great to see the compassion and care that goes in to counseling and also how happy and motivated the clients feel after sessions. There are many nutrition topics that are controversial, so I compiled some information on topics like eggs and popular supplements to make sure people were getting correct and useful information. There are many resources and websites that people use for health information that are not very accurate, so I am finding that it is important to give them correct information or at least make sure they know good places to look. I have briefly gotten to work with Meals on Wheels, which is a program that provides meals for homebound older adults. I have delivered meals to clients, helped prepare meals, and have helped compile Market Baskets. Market Baskets get sent out monthly and get packed with things like fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, and cheese. I like working with Meals on Wheels because of how grateful the clients are, many of them mention they would not eat without this program providing them food. I couldn’t imagine having to go without food for the day because I can’t make my own or go out and buy food, so it makes me feel good that I can help in any way possible. Overall, it has been great being an intern with Volunteers of America. Everyone has been so kind and welcoming and they really make me feel like I am part of their team.

Mallory Silliman

Dietetic intern

Volunteers of America, Colorado Branch

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