Resource fair draws area veterans in need
RICHMOND, Calif. — For Matthew Hope, adjusting to civilian life is a process that never ends.
A U.S. Army veteran who served in Vietnam and the first Gulf War, the 63-year-old San Leandro resident struggles daily with back pain and trouble sleeping, problems compounded by tight finances.
"Life goes on after you serve, but it's not always easy," he said.
Hope was one of the veterans who trickled into the Richmond Auditorium Friday morning for the city's Veterans Resource Fair, the first event of its kind hosted by the Richmond Veterans Collaborative, a coalition of about 20 public and private veterans assistance agencies assembled last year by Rochelle Monk of the City Manager's Office.
"It was while I was looking through U.S. Census data that I realized there are many veterans in our community, and that clearly there was a void in getting them connected to the services they need," Monk said.
The event on Friday had a sparse initial turnout of veterans -- only about a dozen had visited by midmorning, and the event was scheduled to run until 3 p.m. -- but the organizational support was out in force. RichmondWORKS, the Academy of Art University, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Veterans Resource Program, Contra Costa County Veterans Services, Shelter, Inc., Horizon/ACE Home Health Care, Veterans of Foreign Wars and The American Legion were just some of the providers on hand.
Monk said there are about 6,000 veterans living in Richmond, and that she hopes to hold another resource fair later this year. Richmond received $770,000 earlier this year from the state's Employment Development Department to help recently discharged veterans and longtime unemployed residents receive job training.
The veterans who showed up Friday interacted with a variety of service providers. Kevin Graves of the California Department of Veterans Affairs explained programs providing free tuition at state colleges for the dependents of veterans and opportunities at state-run housing complexes.
Marva Lyons, president and founder of Their Angels, a nonprofit military support group that sends out thousands of care packages to those serving in the military every year, showed veterans how they could get involved through volunteering with her organization.
"A lot of times, just getting involved and contributing can be as beneficial for the veterans as it is for the active duty (personnel) who receive the packages," said Lyons, who started the organization while her son was serving in the Marine Corps in 2004.
Hope signed up with the Disabled American Veterans organization, hoping to get more financial assistance because he said his injuries prevent him from working.
"It's good to have all these people gathered here in one place so I can get help," Hope said. "I have just been barely getting by for a long time."