By Matthew Fischetti
Over 70 people packed into the halls of Black Veterans For Social Justice last Friday to witness the unveiling of a $1,000,000 donation to the group.
The Bed-Stuy Veterans Resource Center and Community Organization was founded in 1979. The 665 Willoughby Avenue location helps connect veterans returning home from combat with resources and helps place veterans with benefits such as housing, benefits, employment and more during their transition back to civilian life.
“Serving Black veterans – people who have fought in wars, to lift up to the principles of American freedom, liberty and justice for all, equal protection under the law, protecting democracy – you all have been a part of that black history and that American history. And were so thankful for you and your work,” said U.S. minority leader and Brooklyn Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, who delegated the funds, at the announcement.
The funds were made available through Community Project Funding, a program where congress members can appropriate funds to their district.
After the announcement was made, Veterans and attendees were able to connect with a series of government offices in a veteran resource fair: including the Veterans Justice Outreach Program, which helps connect veterans with Veteran Administration benefits; the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program; the Jobs to Build On Program, a city program that helps unemployed people with job preparation and placement; among many others.
“That’s what today’s veterans resource fair is all about – continuing that work. To make sure that our veterans upon their return can live a decent, comfortable life. Having sacrificed for us, we should always be there for them,” Jeffries said.
Army Veteran and member of Brooklyn CB-2’s Veterans Committee, Andre Parker, 65, said that he came to familiarize himself with the services and check on some of his personal benefits.
“When you get out of the military, they don’t really give you too much information,” Parker explained. “But if you look at the benefits, or if you’re looking for like medical issues – this place here is good with job placement, housing, and it’s just not widely available.”
Parker emphasized that resource centers like Black Veterans for Social Justice are especially important for younger veterans, who may have recently left and not know what kinds of benefits they qualify for.
“I think it’s good – especially since we have our congressman leading the way. That was a good thing. As you can see, it was pretty packed downstairs,” Parker noted about the recent $1 million in funds that BVSJ can now tap into.
BVSJ President and CEO Wendy McClinton said that the funds would go a long way in providing programming and services for formerly incarcerated veterans coming home.
McClinton said in an interview that the program aims to engage veterans in the 90 day period that veterans re-enter society after incarceration.
“The veteran must be engaged within those 90 days, and then set up with those wraparound services, which may mean little basic things like clothing, job readiness, employment, making sure their mental status is correct, and tying them into other wraparound services,” she said.
McClinton also said that the funds would help hire more individuals to work on the program, which could have up to nine staff people in order to help reduce veteran recidivism and “learn that time served means new beginning.”
“We can employ more veterans, with the right background and credentials, peer to peer, to make sure that these formerly incarcerated veterans transition back into society with a veteran, with tender love and care and a listening ear,” McClinton said.