By Kerri Ann Valenzuela, President of Community Education and Marketing, Gemini Hospice
“Since the birth of our nation there have always been the brave men and women standing in the gap to protect our nation and ensure our freedom. As we set today aside to honor and thank our Veterans let us be mindful that we should do this every day of the year not just one.”
— Beth Pennington, Founder of Military Missions.org
Veterans Day gives us the opportunity to say “thank you” for the selfless sacrifices made by our veterans and the men and women who are currently serving our country. As the granddaughter of a Marine veteran who has since passed, I am so incredibly proud to be a part of Gemini Hospice, a company that puts giving back to the community before business through educational presentations, volunteering at local events, and supporting our veterans.
Through Gemini Hospice’s unusual but successful business model, I’ve had the honor to meet so many wonderful and truly inspiring people. Digging into the community brings up many issues on an individual level, and we as a company need to make sure we have local resources available for the needs we uncover. When finding local resources, it is our responsibility to ensure that the people we refer will take care of those in need and not take advantage of them.
I’ve met many wonderful people, including some truly inspiring people who are in desperate need of resources they did not know were available to them. One of the largest groups of those in need is our amazing veterans. Many veterans and their families find it very frustrating when they are not able to find the unique support they need outside of the VA and close to home.
There are groups out there championing for their fellow veterans and working tirelessly to keep their programs open and growing to meet the needs they see every day. These grass-roots, community-based, non-profit, and city-sponsored organizations are a blessing to many veterans, their loved ones, and the community as a whole. You could pass them every day and not know that stopping in and buying a vase, donating your unneeded items, attending a steak dinner or pancake breakfast, or even an hour of your time per week could make such a huge difference for a veteran resource group in your community.
OHOP (Open Hands Outreach Program)
One of those groups that is very special to us, the community and its honored veterans, is Open Hands Outreach Program based in Coolidge, AZ. When I first met Diane Lesueur (founder and president) and Tom Hunt (founder and outreach director) I felt so welcome, and I will say they caused me to really re-evaluate myself. Here are two people, along with a group of amazing other volunteers, that live each and every minute of their lives to help not only their beloved veterans, but the entire community which they call home. Their passion for improving the lives of veterans and their families, providing resources, support groups, jobs, housing, understanding, acceptance, respect, acknowledgement, and so much more each is evident within five minutes of a conversation. My two to three times a year volunteer efforts outside of my career is not enough, and boy, did they, along with Josie Dominguez (navigator manager), Nancy Soliheim (regional facilitator), and Dr. Phil Putnam (president), inspire me to want to do so much more.
OHOP began in 2012 with a group of business, civic, religious leaders, and veterans representatives from various organizations that came together as a grass-roots movement to reach out to veterans in need. They are a 501(c) 3 non-profit, faith-based organization with the focus on helping veterans get the benefits they have earned and services they need. OHOP is proud partners with United Way Pinal Co., RSVP Sr., Salvation Army, United Food Bank, APS Crisis Utility Assistance, and SNAP (food stamp) enrollment assistance. While their focus is on veterans, the help provided by their outreach programs is also for elderly, disabled, and the community at large. OHOP is a non-government funded philanthropic venture solely reliant on volunteers, donations, gifts, and grants, which are primarily used to provide services to those who have come back from service in the military with problems that most of the world does not understand. They strive to promote residential stability and resources to increase veteran skill levels and income as a way to end veteran homelessness. Other veteran programs include certified counselors who are also veterans, re-entry and recovery groups, spouse support groups, employment opportunities, on-line classes, and, most of all, a place where veterans can find fellowship, freedom from problems, hurts, habits, and addictions. OHOP also solely runs the city food bank, which provides emergency food boxes, monthly food boxes, and water as well as basic personal hygiene products to all the community members who are in need.
OHOP’s main building and the heart of the operation is where you will find veterans and community members always with a big smile and a “hello” to everyone who walks through the door of their Coffee Pot Canteen. On one side of the Canteen is the Corner Shop that has donated collectables, antiques, appliances, a variety of household items, jewelry and art for sale to help support OHOP’s efforts. Everyone I‘ve ever met that has experienced the people of OHOP feels just the way I did two years ago and still do: honored to know them, asking “how can I help,” and privileged to have met so many wonderful veterans.
EVC (Eloy Veterans Center)
About 20 miles South of OHOP is another amazing local veteran’s center that opened just a little over two years ago. The Eloy Veterans Center started years before their grand opening as a coffee club to give veterans a place and opportunity to connect with each other as well as learn about local services. I am sure there were also a few opportunities to share stories and some local goings-on.
It took the hard work and determination of many local community members, veterans, and volunteers to make EVC a possibility. In this case, it took a village to make the renovations and fulfill the needs of the center. EVC had their grand opening on September 5, 2014, With the help of a Community Reinvestment Grant from Cenpatico and partners like Pinal Gila Council, CAHRA, the city of Eloy, Pinal County Attorney’s Office, Ride for the Warriors, Pinal County Stand Down, and the Honoring/Hiring Helping Our Hero’s of Pinal committee. The city of Eloy graciously committed to its veterans by only charging the center $1.00 per year for the lease.
The center provides local veterans access to a variety of services including benefits counseling, claims assistance, homelessness prevention, emergency social services, and employment training. The center is also an access point for Arizona Workforce Connection that provided them with a computer and printer for the use of all community members looking for employment. The EVC is a non-profit organization whose mission is to honor, aid, and empower all veterans, military service members, and their families in their goals to achieve self-sufficiency.
The EVC is also very committed to the community as a whole. With Sonnette Chaput (veteran services coordinator), Juan Ramirez (peer support), Elaine Ferrell (receptionist), Karol Koppy (community outreach liaison), along with so many other amazing volunteer outreach programs such as the Hunger Awareness Campaign for local school children and the Veterans Heritage Project that brings local youth together with veterans to share their stories and experiences, the EVC is a blessing to the community. This center acts as a gathering place on Main Street in Eloy where the community feels a strong sense of pride. The EVC is looking forward to the completion of the Eloy
Veterans Heritage Park. On Memorial Day 2016, the EVC and city officials cut the ribbon on the newly completed phase one of the park. The park will be a beautiful addition to the city and provide a place to celebrate veterans, military service members, and their families.
You just have to attend one dinner, program, class, or come by for the Veterans Day Parade and Celebration and you will be swept up in the smiles, laughter, and genuine caring between the community and its veterans around this center.
Gemini Hospice is family owned and operated with care, compassion and, community service being our main goals. Gemini Hospice home office is located at 3960 E. Riggs Rd #4 Chandler, AZ. Along with Gemini Outreach offices in Superior and Coolidge AZ. Call 480 883-1353 or visit www.geminihospice.com for more information.
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