On any given night in America, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 40,056 veterans are homeless. That sad state of affairs has become part of the landscape in most large American cities, where the homeless population is all too obvious. In rural areas, the issue is harder to pinpoint. Sandy Spotts lives in rural eastern Pennsylvania, and if you’d asked her about the homeless problem in her area five years ago, she would have said ‘what problem?’ But after a seven-year stint caring for her father-in-law ended when he passed away, Sandy found herself with time on her hands. She heard about Paul’s House, a nearby home for veterans that needed volunteers and answered the call. That was four years ago and her involvement has grown from two days a week to four, sometimes five. Paul’s House, named for Major Paul Syverson, a Special Forces Officer who was killed in Iraq in 2004, is a residence for up to 13 homeless veterans, a place where they eat three healthy meals a day and can stay short term, get assistance with job training and other services and get help to find affordable housing. Helping homeless veterans has become Sandy’s passion.
Sandy is committed to making a difference in her community and she is today’s Daily Point of Light Award honoree. Points of Light spoke with her about her commitment to service.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I volunteer because it is my way of giving back and saying thank you to veterans for the sacrifices they made for me and all Americans. I really enjoy getting to know our residents, although some of the stories just break your heart. We have men and women of all ages, and so often they can’t believe they are dealing with this issue at this point in their lives. Let’s face it nobody aspires to be homeless.
Describe your volunteer role.
I coordinate our holiday meal program, which distributes baskets of donated ingredients for a holiday meal to a list of 135 veterans and their families in the region. I’m also in charge of the food pantry at VALOR, (Veterans Assisted Living Out Reach), the organization that runs Paul’s House. I help with administration and work with the veterans one on one. I go to weekend events to let people know about VALOR and what our mission is. We also set up a pop up “store” a few times a month that offers clothing, hygiene products and food to those in need. We are very grassroots.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
There are so many rewards! I have met some amazing people that I now call my friends. I started as a volunteer and now I’m considered family, and that means so much to me. The hugs and smiles I get from veterans, the phone calls where someone says they didn’t know what they were going to do for Christmas, or Thanksgiving until our basket showed up, that just makes my day.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I learned that we do have homeless people in our area. It’s so rural, you don’t really see them, so I was shocked. It bothers me. These are veterans, they shouldn’t be living on the street. I have also learned to be more patient. Each of our veterans are dealing with something different, and I can’t know their world. Sometimes to me their fears or concerns might seem unwarranted at first, but I’ve learned to really listen, to put myself in that person’s shoes. We are here to help them – but so often they help us.
Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
The holiday meal program is going to be in full swing in a week or so and it’s a very busy time until Christmas. Busy and exciting, I call it my organized chaos. But it’s a lot of fun. We work with local farmers, Girl Scout troops and other groups to get all the food donated that we need.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
We all have something to be thankful for and we learn and gain so much when giving back to others less fortunate than us. My volunteer work has given me a different perspective on homeless people. Being homeless doesn’t define them. They deserve dignity and respect and we try to give them that.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
God gave each of us a gift and we need to use that gift to the best of our ability. I believe my gift is taking care of people. I wasn’t born with a lot of money, I didn’t go to college and I’m certainly not a beauty. But I can help people and that is what I’m going to do.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Sandy? Visit All for Good for local volunteer opportunities.