Veterans’ group wins award for nonprofit innovation

Veterans’ group wins award for nonprofit innovation
December 11
00:00 2014
Photo by Chanel Davis On hand to represent Veterans Helping Veterans Heal were (from left) Gerry Merritt, Diane Evans, Jane Milner, Leslie Jones and Mary Jac Brennan.

Veterans Helping Veterans Heal (VHVH) received the coveted High Five Award from HandsOn Northwest North Carolina on Tuesday, Nov. 25 during a breakfast ceremony at the Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden in Kernersville.

The award, which comes with a $5,000 grant, recognizes an area nonprofit that has demonstrated an innovative way to carry out its program. A committee choose the VHVH from among nine other nominees. HandsOn, which pushes volunteerism and supports nonprofits in carrying out their missions, hands out the award annually.

VHVH provides transitional housing and support for homeless veterans, many of whom are battling substance abuse and other demons.  The award specifically cites the agency’s Garden to Table initiative. Along with Forsyth Community Gardening, the N.C. Housing Foundation and the N.C. Cooperative Extension, the program trains vets in the fine art of gardening and, in turn, provides fresh produce for the VHVH’s temporary housing facilities. Participants have built a garden shed, a fence and learned about composting, seed saving, cultivation and culinary arts.

N.C. Housing Foundation Development Coordinator Jane Milner said innovative programs like VHVH depend on funding, which is increasingly harder to secure.

“All of us in the nonprofit world are always looking for ways to generate funds to help support the operating budget,” she said.

The garden is also used for therapeutic purposes, allowing program participants who struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental illness related to their military service some respite.

Leslie Jones said he has long found peace in gardening. He developed a green thumb as a child.

“Messing in the garden relieves some of the stress. When you are around 22 people all day (in the transition housing facility), you have to have somewhere to go. You can walk around and get some time to yourself,” Jones said.

He’s not knocking his experience at the VHVH home. His time there is making him stronger each day.

“You have a chance to get off the drugs and alcohol, meet new people and attend meetings. They can help you find jobs and go to school,” said the former Marine.

After his military career ended in 1991, new career opportunities were not abundant. He said he has not had a steady job since leaving the service. He arrived at VHVH in September, having been homeless for a while.

“I look forward to waking up now and having something to do every day,” Jones said. “They make sure that you have job skills and are people oriented. The military doesn’t do that when you get out.”

Milner said that the agency has plans to expand the garden program.

“The newest thing that we are working on is a production garden, which is taking some of the vegetables to sell or/and make new products like jams, jellies or pickled something,” she said.

The goods would then be taken to local farmers’ markets for sale. Proceeds would benefit VHVH. Milner said veterans will play an integral role in any possible expansion.

“Whatever we decide to make, they will learn how to make it, package it and sell it,” she said.

The award was given during HandsON’s Fall Best Practice Breakfast, which recognized November as Nonprofit Awareness Month. The breakfast was sponsored by Truliant Federal Credit Union and brought together 80 representatives from area non-profits.

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Chanel Davis

Chanel Davis

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