Veteran AmeriCorps Seniors Volunteers Create New, Innovative Service Models
Yesterday was Veterans Day, an annual opportunity to express our gratitude to the courageous men and women in uniform who have given so much to our nation. Our veterans know the meaning of service, sacrifice, and camaraderie, and their experiences enrich the lives of their communities long after they leave the armed forces. Many veterans choose to continue to give back: often to their communities, but sometimes to each other, as well.
Earlier this week, AmeriCorps CEO Barbara Stewart, and AmeriCorps Seniors Director Deborah Cox-Roush held a virtual roundtable with AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers in the RSVP program at Connecticut’s Thames Valley Council for Community Action (TVCCA). The focus of the roundtable was to hear from the program’s AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers, who discussed the importance of community and service as our nation faces new and unprecedented challenges.
Since the inception of the Veterans Coffeehouse program, veterans in Thames Valley have looked forward to Wednesdays. Every week, they and their fellow veterans gather to drink coffee, see their friends, and receive vital information and resources to uplift former servicemembers, their caregivers, and their families. The Veterans Coffeehouse serves as a reminder that they are not alone and that there are others who shared their experience and are ready to lend a helping hand.
During the roundtable, John Waggoner, a US Naval veteran, was quick to express how important the Veterans Coffeehouse is to him. “The coffeehouse has been a great place to talk and experience the camaraderie that we experienced as veterans,” John explained.
With the onset of COVID-19, however, physical meetings became risky, if not impossible. Thames Valley Council’s RSVP program determined that, although the Veterans’ Coffeehouse could no longer meet as they used to, they were not going to leave their comrades behind.
As former Naval machinist and AmeriCorps Seniors volunteer, Clay Sizer, stated: “We aren’t going to turn our backs on our brothers and sisters who served this country. We’re going to do something.”
Adapting to public health guidance, TVCCA has implemented COVID-safe volunteer initiatives such as phone reassurance and wellness checks, shopping assistance, and weekly newsletters containing information about resources like local food banks and drives. These initiatives are executed by AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers who are veterans or members of military families, creating a network of former servicemembers who uplift one another.
Gina King, Director of Senior Volunteer Services for TVCCA, explained that the weekly Veterans Coffeehouse — formerly meeting at several locations throughout the Thames Valley region — is now piloting meeting in the parking lot of a senior center. This new measure ensures a safe, open-air environment where participants can socialize, but it also inhibits the attendance of veterans who are particularly at-risk and will become more difficult as the weather gets colder.
TVCCA looks forward to the day they will be able to return to in-person community gatherings, but in the meantime they are finding new ways to support veterans in the Thames Valley region.
Veterans Coffeehouse Coordinator and Naval veteran, Marvin Serruto, admitted that this past year has been challenging, but he also expressed how special the Veterans Coffeehouse community is.
“There is a common thread here,” he said. “We all have a lot of heart and soul.”