Concord Park Connects Two Generations of Senior Veterans

(Left To Right: Paul Brady, Munsell Wells)

The cafeteria of Concord Park’s Independent and Assisted Living Facility is nearly empty. Lunch time has long since finished but two men remain, tucked away in a corner table lingering over coffee and conversation.

The buzz of a cell phone cuts through their dialogue. It belongs to Paul Brady, the older of the two men. “Oh,” he says, regarding the device. He looks at the man to his left– his friend Munsell Wells– and smiles. “The baby’s here.” Wells gives his silent thumbs up. Paul answers.

Minutes later, Paul has said his goodbye and is returning to his coffee. “It was my grandson,” he says, pride swelling in his voice. “They just had a son.”

“So you’re a great grandfather?” asks Wells.

“Two times over,” Paul confirms.

Congratulations chime in from the few stragglers within earshot. Rather than join in, Wells lets the chatter quiet before putting his cup of coffee down and flatly asking: “Have you ever noticed that it’s only by four or five months that they even start to look vaguely humanoid?”

Paul doesn’t have to contemplate the question. His response is quick and equally dry:  “I always thought it was just me.”

Neither men crack a smile or laugh– that sort of thing would ruin the joke for all those enjoying it. Being in their presence just a short time, you get the feeling these sort of exchanges happen frequently and off-the-cuff. It’s the sort of ad-libbed banter that could only come from sitcom writers or long-time friends.

Paul and Wells are neither. The men never crossed paths before arriving at Concord Park and, separated by at least a generation, have known each other for less than a year. Their familiarity comes from a shared history that, while not intersecting, is closely paralleled between them:

Both Paul and Wells are veterans of foreign wars.

Paul, a native of Waltham, Massachusetts, began his service in the Army Signal Corps in 1950, after the outbreak of the Korean War. Providing communication to military headquarters from the front line, Paul’s career started at the end of the wired communication era and ended at the beginning of the wireless, microwave radio revolution.

Wells’ own military career did not begin until over a decade later. As a member of the United States Marine Corps, Wells’ service took him from South Yarmouth, Massachusetts into the jungles of Vietnam. Starting in 1965, Wells served for four years in the Marine Corps fighting on behalf of our country.

Like so many veterans of their time, both Paul’s and Wells’ military careers were cut short by injuries sustained during service. Though both men returned home in relatively strong health, their injuries would be regular reminders of their sacrifices during war.

“We were setting up microwave equipment in the field,” Paul says of the moment that changed his life. “The boxes that had the pipes and the guide wires weighed about 400 pounds. One of them dropped on my right leg. All it left was a bone bruise on my shin but the bone bruise never healed. It would cause complications many, many years later.”

Wells’ physical trauma occurred while on routine patrol. “I was walking next to a tank that was on the road… you know, one of our own. I was six, maybe eight feet away. The tank hit a landmine; it blew the caterpillar track off.” Wells was not killed in the incident but the shock waves caused substantial injury to his foot. “I’ve been walking with a limp since 1968,” he laments.

After serving their country, Paul and Wells returned home to Massachusetts to reinvent themselves in civilian life. They reintegrated back into their communities, starting careers and families.

Paul had a son and daughter and started a meat cutting shop in Waltham that thrived for twenty years. He retired, then went back to work in communications as a P.R. representative for an enrollment management company. This position lasted another twenty years.

Wells returned home from Vietnam to begin a career as a long-haul trucker. With the arrival of two daughters, Wells changed careers and went to work as an attorney in “the divorce and traffic ticket racket” for the better part of a decade. Through it all, Wells longed to return to his life as a trucker. After stepping away from his career in law, Wells got back on the open road, hauling goods across North America for the final phase of his professional career.

wells

As time progressed, Paul’s old army injury caused increasing circulation issues. Artery deterioration set in and doctors were forced to amputate his right leg above the knee. The operation saved his life but confined him to a wheelchair. With the new challenge of limited mobility, Paul sought out assisted living as a means of adjusting to the change.

Unlike Paul, Wells’ leg injury did not worsen. Instead, he began experiencing seizures late in life. “I’d just suddenly wake up on the floor, not knowing how I got there, unable to get up or reach a phone or anything.” After the last one of these events, Wells was put on medication to prevent the episodes and, at the urging of his daughters, was admitted into Concord Park.

Upon entering Concord Park, Paul and Wells were forced to adapt to the change of living within an assisted living facility. Despite the challenges of adjusting to their new life, both men agree that Concord Park has helped bolster their independence while creating a stable community to thrive in.

“I really enjoy having my own space again,” Wells admits. “And having someone who can come in and help clean the place up and keep things in order is fantastic.”

Paul agrees. “It’s an excellent second home, very family focused. My son’s family lives nearby, so does my daughter. They visit once a week and, every once in a while, a grandchild pops in. The staff is very accommodating and goes out of their way if you want to plan something special.”

Wells interjects: “There’s a feeling of security, there are activities, there’s good friendship among the men…” Wells looks at Paul, offering him a turn.

concord-park-assisted-living-concord-ma

“Yes, I agree wholeheartedly.” A smile stretches across his face as he regards his friend. “Wells is also a good fellow inmate,” he says drily.

“Especially when it comes to planning the occasional breakout,” Wells mutters, tagging the joke.

It is the mission of Volunteers of America’s assisted living centers, located in Concord Park and Nashoba Park, to provide our seniors with a secure, supportive environment that fosters an enriching lifestyle. With assistance from corporations like The Home Depot Foundation, Volunteers of America will soon be able to serve individuals like Wells and Paul at The Forestdale Park Assisted Living Facility opening in Malden, Massachusetts in 2017. For more information on the Forestdale Park project as construction nears completion, please visit our website.

Six Ways To Make A Difference This Thanksgiving

For most Americans, volunteering on Thanksgiving is a time-honored holiday tradition observed with the same reverence as a carved turkey, a good football game, or a slice of pumpkin pie. By giving a helping hand to your local shelter or soup kitchen, you know you’ll will be bringing hope to those in your community who may be struggling through the holidays. After all, the best way to say thanks is to give back. Right?   

There’s only one problem: by dedicating yourself to helping out on one of the busiest volunteer days of the year, you may be overwhelming the staff and denizens of your local shelter or kitchen. To make a complicated situation worse, America’s overabundant dedication to serving the needy on Thanksgiving takes the attention off of less charitably-focused holidays like Memorial Day, Valentine’s Day, Veterans Day, and Labor Day, not to mention day-to-day philanthropy in general. 

While Volunteers of America would never discourage a charitable impulse, we can all agree that philanthropy isn’t to be approached in the elbow-to-elbow style of a Black Friday sale. This Thanksgiving, Volunteers of America Massachusetts is offering six easy ways for you to make a difference in the lives of the needy without creating too many cooks in the kitchen. 

Donate New Winter Clothes

We all know the temperature in Massachusetts starts dropping around November. For anyone struggling to find housing, Thanksgiving can be little more than the symbolic start to a perilous winter. This is why it is imperative we observe the holiday as a means of helping individuals and families prepare for the seasonal conditions ahead. Volunteers of America Massachusetts is in desperate need of winter coats, boots, hats, waterproof gloves, and so much more from our Winter Wear Wishlist. As little as one item could help save a life this holiday season.

Shop Through Amazon Smile

Getting a jump on Christmas shopping? Is your clicking finger poised for Cyber Monday deals? If you click through our Amazon Smile portal before doing any of your Amazon shopping, you can help earn money for Volunteers of America Massachusetts while also taking care of your own shopping needs!

Give Using Items From Our Wishlist

Our programs can always use more of the bare essentials. Whether it is new sheets, toiletries, or even a transportation pass, your donation will support an individual in need on their road to recovery.

Sign Up to Volunteer After the Holiday Season 

Whether you’re looking to get involved at an event, a program, or even at one of our offices, your help will go a long way in supporting the efforts of our organization. By booking your volunteer spot in advance, we can utilize our Good Samaritans with precision to better help those in need of assistance. 

Donate A Used Car

In two easy steps, you can free up a parking space, secure a tax deductible receipt, and ensure that 88 cents of every dollar accrued will go to support the life-changing work of Volunteers of America. Pickup is free and your donation will make sure the poor, the hungry, and the homeless receive meals, emergency housing, and treatment this holiday season. 

Donate To VOAMA On Giving Tuesday

The day after Cyber Monday is globally recognized as an opportunity to match your spending in a philanthropic fashion. Donate to Volunteers of America Massachusetts on Giving Tuesday and promote us on social media using the hashtag #GivingTuesday. In doing so, you’ll be helping show your support for VOAMA among your friends and family, thereby spreading the word about our cause!

Legacy of Compassion: The Maud Booth Correctional Services Award

For the past few years, Volunteers of America has presented the prestigious Maud Booth Correctional Services Award at the American Correctional Association (ACA) Conference. The award is given to honor a leader in the correctional field whose work demonstrates compassion and belief in the human potential of offenders and ex-offenders. This year, we were proud to be part of the Maud Booth Award Luncheon, held here in Boston.

MaudBWho is Maud Booth anyway? She and her husband, Ballington, co-founded Volunteers of America back in the late 1800’s, and she is considered one of the first great prison reformers of the 20th century. Her tireless advocacy led to the gradual elimination of the lock step, the ball and chain, prison stripes, and the indiscriminate use of solitary confinement. She also established the nation’s first system of halfway houses to help inmates transition after their sentences were over.

The award given in her name honors individuals whose leadership has made an impact on improving public policies, programs, and services in the criminal justice system. This year, the award was given to two men who carry on the legacy of Maud Booth in their everyday work.

Dan Lombardo (VOA Delaware); Sheriff Frank Cousins (Awardee); Mike King (President, Volunteers of America); Mr. John Larivee (Awardee); Tom Bierbaum (VOA Massachusetts); Barbara Banaszynski (VOA National Services)

Mr. Frank G. Cousins was appointed Sheriff of Essex County MA in Sept. 1996, and has made a huge impact on the correctional system for his past 3 terms of service. Under his leadership, the philosophy that “Re-entry begins day one,” has helped hundreds of inmates build skills they need to become productive members of society. His numerous educational, behavioral and substance abuse treatment programs have touched so many lives, often preventing individuals from returning to criminal behavior by giving them a chance to pursue a new path. We have been honored to work with Sheriff Cousins over the years, and congratulate him on this award and on his retirement!

Mr. John J. Larivee has served Community Resources for Justice since 1974, and was appointed its Chief Executive in 1985. His long tenure of working with this community-based corrections organization, as well as his numerous contributions to local, state, national and international associations have made him a leader in the movement of criminal justice reform. His work has helped bridge the gap between research, policy and practice in public institutions throughout the Commonwealth. Congratulations Mr. Larivee – our community thanks you for your efforts!

Your support continues to help people overcome difficult circumstances that lead to imprisonment, offering them compassion and preserving the legacy of Maud Booth. To stay informed about how you can support inmates re-entering society, sign up for our mailing list.

Effects of PTSD and Addiction for Veterans

For PTSD Awareness Month, we wanted to share some information on the challenges of trauma and addiction, and how your support can impact the lives of the women, families, veterans and youth that struggle with these twin burdens.

6R7KCXBEEE“PTSD is often referred to as an invisible wound of war,” says Eileen Merisola, Program Director of our Supportive Services for Veterans and Families program. “It affects each veteran differently, and some more severely than others.  Many veterans who are living with PTSD experience panic attacks, depression, and trouble sleeping, among other symptoms.”

When veterans are affected by PTSD, personal relationships with family and friends can suffer. It can also have a huge effect on a veteran’s ability to work.

“In our programs, we have seen veterans that have turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with their symptoms,” explains Eileen.  “While they may provide temporary relief from things like anxiety, depression, and flashbacks, these coping methods are far more detrimental than they are helpful. Relying on drugs and alcohol to cope leads so many to unemployment, and eventually homelessness.”

“We help hundreds of veterans return to work and obtain stable housing each year, and we’re proud to be part of an organization that encourages veterans to seek help with the underlying causes of their homelessness or unemployment.”

Your support helps veterans find safe, affordable places to live, and gives them the resources to deal with underlying issues of PTSD and addiction. You can help set veterans up for success by donating today!

Seeking help to overcome PTSD or addiction is not shameful or a sign of weakness.  If you or someone you know are struggling with PTSD and addiction and need services, call our outpatient mental health clinic, The Family Center at 617-770-9690 or email info@voamass.org.

Addiction and Trauma Hand-in-Hand

For PTSD Awareness Month, we wanted to share some information on the challenges of trauma and addiction, and how your support can impact the lives of the women, families, veterans and youth that struggle with these twin burdens.

FAEVFTT6YM“From my experience, there is a clear, strong connection between PTSD and addiction,” says Stephanie Pace, MS, and clinician at The Family Center for Counseling & Education, our outpatient mental health clinic located in Quincy.

“Trauma – from war time experiences, domestic violence, or accidents – causes extreme distress and emotional pain. Many turn to substance use in order to cope with those emotions, and that often results in addiction,” explains Stephanie.

“In turn, addiction hinders recovery from trauma and it actually increases one’s risk of experiencing another trauma. Using substances like alcohol or drugs can numb the pain and distract from underlying trauma, but addiction often causes more pain and traumatic events to occur.”

“There is hope for those who are struggling. At The Family Center, we focus on building healthy coping mechanisms with each of our clients, so that they have options beyond relapsing and other destructive behavior. We are here to help people process and move past traumatic experiences, and be able to achieve a healthy, happy lifestyle. ”

Your support will help low-income individuals overcome both trauma and substance abuse. Donate now to help us continue to be there for those in need!

If you or someone you know are struggling with PTSD and addiction and need services, call our outpatient mental health clinic, The Family Center at 617-770-9690 or email info@voamass.org.

 

Giving Back…Your Support Makes Our Work Possible!

VOAMASS is proud to have the support of the community! Without our supporters and volunteers we could not do the work we do. This year several local companies and families came together to support many of our clients and veterans for the holiday season.

Proskauer

Serving lineVolunteers from the Boston office of international law firm, Proskauer, gathered to serve dinner to the residents at the Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center for the second year in a row. This year, residents we treated to an amazing meal by the volunteers all while being able to share their experiences as formerly homeless veterans with the Proskauer team.

Joe Capraro, a partner at Proskauer’s Boston office explained, “Proskauer recognizes the profound sacrifice of our men and women in the U.S. military. We are proud to give back to our veterans, and pleased to partner with the Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center and Volunteers of America to deliver some holiday cheer.”

The Saren Family

IMG_9831Jeff and Laurie Saren and their whole family have been volunteers at VOAMASS for years. This year, the Saren’s “adopted” one of our residents this holiday season. The Saren’s donated new clothes, toys and gift cards to help Giverny and Gabriel, her two-year old son have a stress-free holiday season.

“Christmas can be really difficult when you’re just trying to make ends meet,” says Laurie, “but we’re blessed to be able to help out and pay it forward.”

“This was totally unexpected, and I couldn’t be more grateful,” said Giverny. “As a single mom, I’m working full time, and going to school nights so I can be the best person for my son. These gifts are so thoughtful and I am so thankful.”

Boston Properties 200 Clarendon Street 

IMG_4319In the spirit of giving back during the winter season, the 200 Clarendon Street property management team at Boston Properties held a warm clothing drive for our formerly homeless veterans at the Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center. Building customers, vendors, employees and community members dropped off new coats, sweaters, and winter wear. The 200 Clarendon Street team set up donation collection bins in the building lobby in November and ultimately collected eight bags full of winter wear for veterans!

Boston Action Team

12321122_10153084866421504_1237626919716557274_nThis year, Tim Gile and his fellow Boston Action Team Captains met to create holiday gift bags for our veteran residents. The gift bags were filled with winter accessories like scarves, gloves, and hats, as well as essential toiletries, and even bags of coffee. This group of high school students, who volunteer regularly helping veterans, gave up their Saturday morning to assemble the bags, and they even included hand-written messages to the veterans.

 

Jason Oberton and Quincy Youth Soccer

Untitled design (1)LTC Jason Oberton is a Battalion Commander of the Massachusetts National Guard and also a former recipient of the Capt. Thomas J. Hudner Award, Jason is a devoted youth soccer coach and this year at their annual Quincy Youth Soccer Jamboree the players and other coaches held a canned food drive at the to benefit residents of the Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center. The drive was a huge success! Jason delivered a truckload full of canned and dry goods to our formerly homeless veterans, which not only contributed to a successful Thanksgiving meal at the center, but also helped out many of the veterans struggling.

 To find out ways that you can give back, email info@voamass.org or call 617-390-0228! 

The Family Center’s Top 5 Self-Help Books

Self-help books are a great way to learn more about ourselves and others close to us, especially in the holiday season, when many of us start to feel overwhelmed and stressed out. We asked our licensed clinicians at Volunteers of America Massachusetts’ outpatient mental health clinic to share some of their favorite self-help books, and books about mental health, to help expand your horizons during this hectic season! Check out their recommendations below:

 

BeatAnxietyDepression

Beat Anxiety & Depression by Changing Your Brain by Debbie Hampton

Recommended by Michaela Bileau, LMHC, mental health clinician at The Family Center in Taunton

Michaela says, “This book provides the reader with an overview of anxiety and depression and provides healthy brain habits to transform your life. With short, easy-to-understand chapters, the book is excellent for anyone struggling with challenging symptoms of anxiety and depression.” 

 

The_Art_of_HappinessThe Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler

Recommended by Stephanie Pace, MS, mental health clinician at The Family Center in Quincy

Stephanie says, “This book teaches the reader a more positive perspective on how to live your life. It highlights the importance of one’s state of mind, especially how your perspective and thinking determines your happiness and quality of life.”

 

NarcissisticFamilyThe Narcissistic Family by Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman

Recommended by Venus Taylor, MA, mental health clinician at The Family Center in Quincy

Venus writes, “This book inspires because it helps me connect with clients whose family systems put the adults’ needs over their children’s needs. This situation can happen for many reasons like job stress, alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illness, or lack of parenting skills, and it is a very common experience.”

 

BodyKeepstheScoreThe Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk

Recommended by Kyrre Culver, MA mental health clinician at The Family Center in Quincy and at the Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center in Somerville.

Kyrre writes, “I am astounded by the comprehensiveness and clarity of this book. The author brings the truth and complexity of trauma recovery into the light and provides cogent direction for helping individuals to heal their minds, bodies, and spirits.”

 

MansSearchMan’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

Recommended by Galina Gittens, Ph.D., licensed psychologist at The Family Center in Quincy.

Galina writes, “This memoir is a reflection of psychiatrist Victor Frankl’s experiences living in concentration camps during the Holocaust. He emphasizes an optimistic perspective no matter what the hardships are, and turning a personal tragedy into triumph.”


Have a book to add to our list? Comment below, and share your favorite books about mental health, self-help, or self-care.

 These books may serve as great resources and guides, but if you are in need of counseling please contact The Family Center at 617-770-9690 or at: tfc@voamass.org.

 If you feel you are in crisis, call 911 immediately.

Keeping Promises

Here’s the third part in our series, Stories from the Front Lines,  a collection of wisdom, advice, courage and strength from our clients, whose lives you’ve helped change. In honor of Veterans Day, we asked Bob to share the most important issue veterans are facing right now.

hug“There should be no such thing as empty promises,” says Bob, Marine Corps veteran who served from 1969-1975.

“Many veterans wait for the promise of health care, and some don’t make it to see the promise being fulfilled. That’s the real tragedy – the time to keep our promises is now.”

Bob experiences various health issues related to his exposure to Agent Orange. For many years, his physical health deeply affected his mental health, leading to estrangement from his family, criminal activity and a long struggle with addiction. “I was living on my friends’ couches for a while but I ended up in a shelter because I wanted to stop being a burden. That was a mistake. Living in those close quarters triggered flashbacks for me, and I had no interest in being there. I was feeling like my life had no purpose, and I knew something had to change.”

These days, Bob lives at the Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center in Somerville and he meets with doctors and therapists regularly to keep his pain, PTSD and depression in control. He attends weekly AA meetings, and is known around the house as the guy to turn to when recovery gets difficult.

“I’m happy helping the other guys get clean and stay safe. Nobody was helping me when I was their age. I’m keeping my promises to never leave a soldier behind.”

You can make a promise to support veterans today by donating to Volunteers of America Massachusetts.

button

Read Part 1 Charles’s Story: Never Lose Faith

Read Part 2 Taylor’s Story: The Biggest Challenge Veterans Face

The Biggest Challenge Veterans Face

Here’s the second part in our series, Stories from the Front Lines,  a collection of wisdom, advice, courage and strength from our clients, whose lives you’ve helped change. In celebration of Veterans Day, we asked Taylor what is the biggest challenge veterans face today. 

IMG_1709-1024x768“Veterans strive to be the best they can be with the resources they have,” says Taylor, Marine Corps veteran whose service ended in 2009.

“Unfortunately, the biggest challenge veterans face right now is a lack of resources available for veterans struggling with mental health care issues – and that deeply affects the quality of life.” Taylor is originally from Minnesota, but he moved to Massachusetts because of the strong policies that help veterans access health care.

“I didn’t have much of a home to return to when I got out of the Marines. My family life was unstable and I needed somewhere safe to recover,” says Taylor.  “I’m dealing with PTSD, paranoid-schizophrenia and depression, but here I’ve gotten a foundation under my feet. The Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center has given me a place to stay while I continue to work with VA doctors and therapists. I’ve also worked with the in-house counselor here, which was helpful.”

In the future, Taylor has plans to continue his education and move up to Maine, while still remaining connected to mental health resources provided by the VA. “I never thought I’d be in a place like this,” says Taylor, “But it’s where I need to be right now. It’s a place of reconstruction, a place for us to reassess the value of life, and enables us to recuperate in a sober living environment.”

What do you think?

What is the biggest challenge veterans face in our community?

Share your thoughts with us on Facebook and Twitter today!

Your thoughtfulness and support give veterans a safe place to call home, and the resources they need to stay mentally healthy. To continue helping veterans like Taylor, click here.

button

Read Part 1: Charles’s story, “Never Lose Faith”

Never Lose Faith

For Veterans Day, we wanted to share a few stories with you from some of the men who live at the Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center, a Volunteers of America Massachusetts program that provides housing and support for formerly homeless veterans. 

Here’s the first part in our three-part series of Stories from the Front Lines, a collection of wisdom, advice, courage and strength from our clients, whose lives you’ve helped change. In honor of Veterans Day, we invited Charles to share the most important lesson he’s learned in life. 

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to never lose faith in each other,” says Charles, a veteran who served in the Army from 1973-1976.

WS4XOEH7I7His smile is missing a few teeth, and his laughter is friendly and warm. Charles collects disability income, but it’s never been enough to pay the rent at his own place. He’s on a waiting list for a housing voucher (that can be very difficult to receive) and in the meantime, his goal is to gain basic computer skills so he can start working.

Before he arrived at the Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center, Charles was living in a crowded shelter.

“I caught pneumonia when I was living there and ended up in the hospital. It was a blessing in disguise because then I found out about the Massachusetts Bay Veterans Center in Somerville. I have my own space, and I can get the help I need. People here have faith in me, and I am grateful for that.

We asked Charles what he’d want others to know about veterans. “It’s a big challenge coming home from war. You come back with scars on your skin, but also in your heart. It takes time to adjust, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But time and again, I’ve met people who believed in me and that’s made all the difference.”

Thank you for believing in veterans like Charles, and helping them keep the faith as they move forward on their journeys.

You can continue supporting veterans in transition today! 

button