Developing Leaders Through the Lessons Life Gives Us

Networks and bad decisions

Posted by on Apr 5, 2017 in Stray Voltage | 3 comments

Let me tell you a story. It’s not long. It is a story about a Veteran, about bad decisions, about hope, and about coming together.

Last Friday an email went out to a group of folks who try to find ways to help out our Veterans. The Veteran Services Coordinator at a local college – name withheld to protect the identities of those involved – had a student come in to his office and ask for assistance. I’ll just say that this schools is lucky to have someone so dedicated in their Veteran Services office – he is a great guy and a great friend. This guy, we will call him John, was living in a storage unit, walking the two miles or so back and forth to school, and living off of a very small stipend his education provided (not GI Bill eligible). A couple of emails and phone calls later and I had an appointment with John at the Veterans Services office for 830 Monday morning.

John wasn’t there. We finally got in touch with him about 845, he was a mile or so away at a McDonalds and wouldn’t make it on time. That didn’t seem a good enough reason to cancel the meeting, so I drove to McDonalds and we talked for about 45 minutes. John left the Army in 2011. Things didn’t go well as a civilian. His first arrest was for assault stemming from a family disagreement over money. His life spiraled down and he got desperate. An opportunity presented itself and he tried to steal a truck. John isn’t a thief, he failed miserably, but ended up serving 90 days in the county jail. That cost him his job. It took a few months, but he found another one – working at a Waffle House. He couldn’t afford an apartment and was staying at a cheap motel for about $200/week. His job earned him less than 300. He was spiraling further down, could see that the minimum wage job would not sustain him, so he walked off that job to try and find another.

A year went by and he couldn’t find anything. By this time he had lost his driving license due to an unpaid ticket, lost a place to live, lost his family, and lost hope. Most of us have been through job search and can relate to how demoralizing all of the rejections can be. Once you lose hope there is no reason to continue. Drugs are a palliative, nothing more than a temporary respite. Addiction follows, and the spiral continues. John has managed to avoid addiction, but he is balanced on a razors edge. He needs hope, he needs to believe that he can become the man he wants to be.

That first email came out on a Thursday. Within hours the network had offered up around $300. That money was never collected, because by Tuesday John had a bed at a local shelter and a bus pass to get him back and forth to class. By Wednesday his resume was complete. Thursday night he was going to attend a group meeting intended to show him, in a human, tactile way, that he is not alone. Sam Alix runs a nonprofit called CHAMP that focuses on mental health issues. Sam is amazingly good at giving our Veterans hope and holding them accountable; an inspirational guy who you always want on your side. He makes miracles happen, but he couldn’t for John. John didn’t show. We don’t know why yet. We haven’t given up on him yet. He just missed an appointment. We can open doors but we won’t carry him through. Tonight a door was open and he balked, but that’s ok. The story is not over for John. This is just a semicolon, not a period. But John is not the reason I wrote this.

This story is really about a network. Imagine a network of individuals with a common interest and common objective. When logos and egos are checked at the door there seems to be no limit. A distress signal went up; within hours cash and temp housing was available, within days mid to long term solutions to housing and transportation were provided and there was a path for John to become a long term, stable contributing member of society. I consider it a privilege to be a part of this network, spreading from Galveston to Ellington Field, Alvin to Baytown. Sam Alix with CHAMP, Jay Coppock with SERVE, me with Galveston Bay Veterans Network, and so many more that I could fill pages with contact info. I could have written something like this about many other Veterans. What matters is that our Vets need to understand that no matter what, no matter when, they are never alone, there is never a reason to give up hope. They still have a reason and a purpose; it will soon be their turn to help another. What matters is that there are networks like this one that can find a way, no matter what.

If you know a Veteran needing help, point him our way. We will open doors, but we won’t carry him through. No handouts, but plenty of hands to help up.

If you want to contribute to this kind of network, go find one. If south of Houston, contact me. If elsewhere, find a Veterans social event and go visit. Ask who coordinated it, then ask what they need. Become a part of that network, even if you can only contribute one day out of 400, be a part.

Epilogue: I heard from John a day or so later. He was moving his stuff out of the storage shed and ran late. He apologized for missing the meeting and we set plans to meet again. John wants to get his life together, and with the support of this network, he has a good chance of doing so.

3 Comments

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  1. ray flores

    Such a great reminder not to leave anyone behind. Veterans are very special people

  2. heathermel22

    Thank you. I hope he comes around.

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