"...give yourself a chance, serve God and have faith."Pamela Wyatt - Former Garret House Client
Clients from our Eleanor Corbett House
There But for the Grace
The Girimontes are your typical suburban family.
But today the Girimontes are homeless.
Client from our Home for the Brave Program
He served in the United States Navy for 14 years; which makes him a hero to us. But beyond just his service and sacrifice to his country John Luce is also a humble, family man who, according to staff at Home for the Brave, just “doesn’t want to be a burden to anyone.”John could be your brother or neighbor. As I walked in to interview him, he shook my hand with a firm shake and led me to the Home for the Brave lounge. “The lock these doors at 9 but I made sure they propped the doors open so we could talk” then he chivalrously took all the chairs down so we could get started. I’ve talked to many clients in my eight years with Volunteers of America. All of them have fascinating stories of resilience that are rich in surprising details and warmth. John was no different but his humble nature struck me. It was almost as if he couldn’t understand why people would want to help. This wasn’t self deprecating, more unpretentious and modest. If someone needed help more than he did than that’s who should get the assistance; he doesn’t want anyone to go to trouble on his account. He joined the Navy in 1979 at the age of 21 as a weapons technician working on aircraft carriers. He wanted to go into nuclear propulsion but was shy of the necessary math score by one point, but “it was still physics.” I joked about math not being my strong suit and he said it wasn’t his either with a laugh although I don’t think he understood the joke that anyone who looks to go in to the field of nuclear propulsion does not sink to my level in math ability. He was stationed all across the country: California, Norfolk, Kittyhawk. He didn’t see direct combat but did fly some operations over Libya. He hoped to stay in the Navy for 20 years, but six years shy of that then President Clinton began reducing military operations and his position was eliminated. Following the advice of a friend, he retired in 1993. “I had a great time in the military and still have friends from that time that I talk to.” He had been married during his time in the service and had two children. But time away had taken a toll. “That was the only bad part. The military cost me my first marriage. I missed a lot of my daughter’s childhood.” But now was time to start a second career and a second chance. John went to trade school for machining and worked in this industry for many years before being laid off. After a second marriage ended and an old military injury prevented him for performing the very laborious job of machining, he came to Home for the Brave. “I stayed in my apartment as long as I could.” He finally filed for the military pension to which he was more than entitled and I asked him why he waited. His answer was humble, or stubborn depending on how you look at it. “I would rather work so it took awhile to put in a pension. But with machining you spend 10 or 11 hours a day standing up and I just couldn’t do it anymore.” When I suggested that people find it almost criminal that those who have served their country valiantly could find themselves in a situation where they have no home, his answer was what you would expect from someone who chose a career path defending our country. “There’s nobody to blame, I was just a victim of circumstance. I had everything planned out (to stay for 20 years). One order from the President shot my career. But it’s not the military’s responsibility to hold my hand for the rest of my life.” John has been at Home for the Brave for a year and a half. Without the program, “I don’t know what I would have done. I guess I would have been sleeping in a tent somewhere.” He loves the staff, his room and the lounge area and the services that are provided. For those that are new to the program, his advice would be to respect other people’s privacy and not to “piss and moan about the rules.” He wants people to know that they are good people staying at the program; they just fell on some hard times. In the next few days John hopes to finally move out of Home for the Brave and into a new apartment in Woodbury, NJ. He graciously said I could come there to do a follow up story. John is lucky in a way. He has a supportive family and, according to staff, his daughter and son-in-law visit every Sunday and take him shopping and to dinner. When I asked the staff member why he doesn’t stay with them, the answer was the theme of the morning – he doesn’t want to be a burden. Many of our clients aren’t as lucky. But you can help. John, an avid reader, says he would love books for his new place; he’s read all of them at Home for the Brave. He also said coffee is a very valuable commodity. But our clients also need Apartment Starter Kits for when they move out, toiletries for when they are in the program, and hats, gloves and socks for when they are en route. Stay tuned for part two of my interview with John.
Rastelli Market Fresh
Rastelli Market Fresh has been a Volunteers of America Delaware Valley donor and partner in our Adopt a Family campaign for the last two years. We spoke to Brittany Rastelli, Director of Catering and Events, about why she thinks it is important to give back to the community and Rastelli’s culture of helping those in need. Tell me about Rastelli’s We are a family-owned and operated business. We have Rastelli Market Fresh in Marlton and Deptford and our newest location in Mullica Hill is in partnership with Hill Creek Farms. We have Rastelli Foods which services the entire country including cruise lines and hotels. And we have Rastelli Global which serves the military, cruise lines and locations overseas. We also dabble in other ventures such as on QVC and working with contestants on Shark Tank. The entire operation is run by members of the Rastelli family. What is your position with the company? I oversee the catering and events. I have experience in event planning with other companies but in 2014 I was expecting our first child and looked toward having the flexibility a family-owned business offers. I was able to start the catering and events department and have since developed it into a multi-million dollar department of the store. I oversee everything from the one wing order for a football game on Sunday to a wedding where they need complete catering with servers, tablecloths and dishes. And now, with our newest venture in Mullica Hill, we have several event spaces. Why does Rastelli Market feel it is important to give back? Because throughout the year everyone gets so busy with the hustle and bustle. Giving back not only helps who you are giving to, but makes you feel good as well. This is why it is part of the Rastelli’s culture. Adopt a Family is such a feel good program that gets the entire community involved. Rastell’s has participated in our Adopt a Family program for the last two years. What’s been the response? Adopt a Family has been amazing because our customers can help in three different ways. They can adopt a whole family, choose a single child from our giving tree or buy a box of pasta for two dollars. By having the whole community come together it’s been really impactful. I’ve seen customers get excited by purchasing a box of mac and cheese or a jar of applesauce because they know they are contributing to the greater good. Our participation in Adopt a Family is one of the more special things we have going on here. You and your immediate family have personally participated in Adopt a Family. Is giving back and important part of your life and why? It is important to for us to give back and thankfully we are able to. We love being able to adopt an entire family. What surprises me the most is how little the families ask for. They ask for coats and hats; these are necessities, not wants. Anything else you would like to add?
We also partner with an organization call Headstrong Foundation which helps renovate houses for people who are battling cancer. Each year we feed 100 patients for the holidays. What is interesting is that the people we help through this organization hear about Adopt a Family. Since they have been helped, they then want to give back to that program. It has been wonderful to see how the two programs have come together.
The Batts Family
Backpacks, school supplies, class and sports schedules, and new outfits are all the essential elements of back to school time for millions of kids across the country. But for families who are homeless, this time of year can be one more thing to worry about in an already stressful situation. There are approximately 1.3 million children experiencing homelessness in the United States, over 10,000 of them are in New Jersey. Two-thirds of homeless children don’t read at their grade level; 59% lack proficiency in math. They are more likely to experience acute medical problems. Given the stressors that homeless families face, especially children, the upsetting statistics should come as no surprise. McKinney-Vento Act, which was signed into law in 1987, attempted to curtail some of the barriers homeless children face as they relate to education. Among other items, McKinney-Vento states: Children are required to get immediate enrollment even when records are not present.They have a right to remain in the school of origin, if in the student's best interest Children receive transportation to the school of origin. Children receive support for academic success. Removing enrollment barriers, including barriers related to missed application or enrollment deadlines, fines, or fees; records required for enrollment, including immunization or other required health records, proof of residency, or other documentation; or academic records, including documentation for credit transfer. School stability, including the expansion of school of origin to include preschools and receiving schools and the provision of transportation until the end of the school year, even if a student becomes permanently housed Privacy of student records, including information about a homeless child or youth's living situation Volunteers of America Delaware Valley has long been in the business of helping homeless children and their families succeed. We operate three family programs in the Delaware Valley offering emergency housing, case management, necessities such as food, clothing and transportation, and 24-hour staff support. And we have seen first-hand how difficult it can be for the children we serve to do well in school. The Batts family has been staying at one of our family programs since October. Jeane’, her new baby son and 14 year old daughter, Gianna and 9 year old son, Justin are working hard to find a new place for their growing family but it has been difficult. Jeane’ has lived her whole life in Gloucester County, NJ. She had been staying with her mom but when her mom lost her house, Jeane’ found herself homeless. She had trouble finding work due to her high-risk pregnancy and her vehicle broke down the day she moved to our facility. But through it all she remains positive, for herself and her kids.“Being here is a lot better than what I had thought. We all try and help each other out.” She is particularly happy she gets to make her own meals.For Gianna and Justin, living at our program has been an adjustment, but one they are handling well.They both do excellent in school and are still able to speak with some of their friends. Gianna wants to either be a lawyer or meteorologist and loves to write. Justin just knows he wants to go to college and loves sports. He is hoping to play soccer once they get settled. They are both looking forward to having their own room and wifi.“The hardest part for the kids is that they don’t know when we are leaving,” Jeane’ maintains. They instability is the challenge. If they are still in the program when the school year begins, the kids will be able to go back to their old school, back with their friends. But Jeane’ is hoping that she will be able to get settled before that happens. “(The situation) has made the kids more humble. They appreciate everything.” You can give hope to families like Batts' by donating
Tina could be your neighbor or your best friend. She has a bubbly personality, quick wit and seems more than comfortable in her own skin. Her girl-next-door looks would allow her to easily blend in with gaggles of other moms at school drop off or at the neighborhood restaurant and her open demeanor makes her seem like someone you would talk to about your own problems. But Tina is homeless. Through a variety of circumstances that could weave their way into anyone’s life, she found herself at our Eleanor Corbett House for emergency housing. Tina grew up in New Jersey and moved back in 2016 after many years spent in New York with her then husband and two boys, now aged 19 and 13. After they divorced she found herself in an abusive relationship for far too long which drove her to make the life-changing move back home. “It was the right move for me to come home. I just want to make my kids proud of me.” She quickly realized the cost of living in New Jersey far out paced New York and moved in with her parents. But when that was no longer an option due to a change in their situation, Tina found Eleanor Corbett House.At first her parents worried and she was scared, but the staff and other clients made her feel welcome. The staff helped her with her SSI and assisted her with getting to doctors appointments for both physical ailments (Tina has Lupus) and her mental health issues. But most importantly, they helped her find her home and gave her the gift of standing on her own for the first time.“I’m excited to be on my own,” she says, “excited and nervous.” She is incredibly appreciative of the help she received at Eleanor Corbett saying that they listened when she wanted to cry and gave her a voice when she wanted to speak.She calls it a humbling place. For those in her position coming to the program, she says breathe for a second and be humble that you have a place like this to go. As far as what she wants others to know who may not understand her situation, “There is a stereotype that we are not good people but that’s not true. We are just regular people having a tough time in life.”
“We’re not all bad people. We all have a good heart.” That’s how Mr. Chuck McQueen describes himself and fellow residents at Volunteers of America Delaware Valley’s Eleanor Corbett House in Glassboro, NJ. Five minutes with Chuck would convince anyone his statement is the truth. Chuck is a man who fell onto hard times but finds strength in his family, his daughter Lilly. His face lights up at the mention of his daughter’s name. He wakes up at 5:30 every morning to take a bus to his manual labor job because that’s what he has to do to support his daughter. He isn’t any different from anyone else. He just happens to be homeless. Chuck came to Eleanor Corbett House, a 54-bed facility that houses families and individuals, nine months ago after making self-admitted mistakes that left him with no where else to go. At the time, he was the only father in a facility filled with mothers and children, a fact he doesn’t find relevant. He says, “I know what it is like to be a mother and all the women here know what its like to be a father.” Although, he admits it’s nice for 10-year-old Lilly to have so many women willing to talk to her when she needs a mother’s advice.
Pamela Wyatt came to Volunteers of America Delaware Valley's Garrett House after time spent in jail on a drug charge. Her success comes from leaving a better person than when she arrived or as she puts it, "I left willing to do the right thing; willing to change my life." Pamela is originally from Atlantic City. And, while her mother was also an addict, Pamela maintains that she was always there for her and that her childhood was a good one. Although in talking to her, it's easy to see that her life is focused squarely on the future and she doesn't seem to have much interest in talking about the past. After leaving Garrett House she returned to Atlantic City to her support system of her children, ranging in age from 13- 24, and her sisters. She went into counseling and put in a lot of applications. Within four months she was working two jobs and within six months she had her own apartment. "The key for me was getting motivated and not getting bored." Now she wants to help women and children who may be heading down the same path as she once was. "My advice to other women is to give yourself a chance; serve a God and have faith." She is grateful for her time spent at Garrett House and the doors that were opened there for her. "The staff members were willing to help me and didn't make me feel like less." She is adament that women need to be more powerful and be good examples for their children, which is exactly what she is doing now. "I just want to give back what I took away from the community"
Jamie Moore came to ISSI, a residential program for the mentally ill, in 2010 after a brief stay at Norristown State Hospital. He says the transition was easy because the “people are wonderful. The staff is considerate and we enjoy being around each other.” He utilized the staff from the beginning and immediately began working towards improving himself. After entering ISSI, Jamie began attending a day program Monday through Friday where he learns math, French, Spanish and computer training. He works on other life skills with the staff at ISSI. He wants others struggling with mental illness to know that “there’s help out there when you need it.” Jamie was confident about moving out because of these resources. He will tell you, the best way to help people coping with mental illness is to give them the resources they need to keep their lives on track so that they can remain independent.Three years after entering ISSI, Jamie moved into an apartment with a friend coping with a similar illness. “I understand I have a mental illness but I’m prepared to accept the challenges,” Jamie says about moving out. He continues to go to his day program and is looking for a part-time job. Jamie misses the staff and other residents at ISSI but is excited he accomplished his goal. “Volunteers of America Delaware Valley stands by their words. They want you to be independent,” says Jamie.
He saw his brother go to Vietnam and then knew it was his turn. Michael Decicco was enlisted in the National Guard from 1976 through 1982. He says that the experience made a man out of him early and that it taught him how to better listen to authority even though he had been pretty independent his whole life. He feels a kinship with other veterans and has a respect for anyone who has worn a uniform. “When I hear the Star Spangled Banner, I get chills. I am an American.” His independent spirit led him to buy a pizza restaurant after his honorable discharge, which he owned for 25 years. Self employment suited him. Unfortunately Michael suffered from anxiety, depression and back pain and was prescribed a lot of medication. Limitless prescriptions combined with an entrepreneurial spirit led to bad decision making and to a place this one-time business owner never thought he would be, in jail for 18 months. “The money came easy,” he says. “It began slowly then the money was hard to resist.” He says he has changed in part because he knows he was in a place he didn’t want to be. Now he goes to Volunteers of America Delaware Valley Community Resource Center during his parole while he looks for work. He says he really likes the people there and that the counselors are very understanding. “There are just a lot of very, very good people here.” He will continue to go to CRC until he can produce two paystubs. And where is he looking for work? Back in the pizza business. “It’s what I know.” Right now he knows he needs to work but is most interested in keeping himself busy and making sure he doesn’t go down the wrong road again. When asked, he is hesitant to give advice to other people coming in the program, since he remembers how much he didn’t like being told what to do. “People have to figure it out for themselves. I guess it’s just about what you want out of life.”