Service to one’s country was an expectation in the Gray household. Gary’s parents both served in the United States Navy as did his brother. In 1966, Gray chose to enlist in the United States Army and served a tour of duty in Vietnam.
Move forward forty years. In August 2008, Gary found himself in a position he never thought he’d be in – homeless. Due to the economic conditions facing his community and the country, Gary remained homeless for nine months. In May of 2009, his life began to change. Gary received services from the Senior Community Service Employment Program which led him to the Longview Housing Authority (LHA) – the organization eventually became the host site for his AmeriCorps position sponsored by the United Way of Cowlitz County.
Through this service and volunteer opportunity, Gary found the motivation to help himself while becoming a role model to help improve the quality of life for his fellow veterans.
Gary, once a participant in Longview Housing Authority’s housing program for homeless veterans, was approached about becoming an AmeriCorps member in order to help create an employment program for fellow homeless veterans. Not only did this invitation give Gary the opportunity to serve his county again, but it resulted in developing job opportunities for fellow veterans where none existed before.
On June 1, 2009, Gary enrolled as a full-time member on the Cowlitz AmeriCorps Recovery Team. The Longview Housing Authority felt that Gary’s veteran status and first-hand experience with homelessness made him an ideal candidate to provide services to homeless veterans. Gary’s many responsibilities included conducting outreach to homeless veterans and informing them of the available housing programs, assisting unemployed veterans with job readiness and work search through the Vet Works program and connecting veterans with services available through the Veterans Administration (VA).
As part of his outreach activities, Gary shares his life story and encourages other veterans to volunteer as a pathway to self-sufficiency.
“Being idle doesn’t help you move forward in life. I was embarrassed to be homeless, but the AmeriCorps experience awakened me and made me a better person; a more engaged citizen; it turned my life around.”