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Goodwill Cares: Helping Homeless Vets Make a New Start

“Many of these veterans served in combat. There are often a lot of underlying issues affecting them, like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and drug and alcohol abuse,” said Bruce Bailey, support services coordinator for Operation Stand Down Tennessee. “Anything we can do to rebuild their confidence back to where it was when they served — that’s our main goal.”

Addressing the physical needs of homeless veterans is one of the goals of Operation Stand Down Tennessee, but it’s not the only priority.

The nonprofit’s Nashville center provides a wide variety of services to honorably discharged veterans, such as help finding housing,  employment and addiction treatment if needed and assistance navigating the Veterans Administration system. It also runs a thrift store that can provide veterans with clothing. Much of the agency’s funding comes from government grants, though it also receives private donations.

“Many of these veterans served in combat. There are often a lot of underlying issues affecting them, like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and drug and alcohol abuse,” said Bruce Bailey, support services coordinator for Operation Stand Down Tennessee. “Anything we can do to rebuild their confidence back to where it was when they served — that’s our main goal.”

Helping these once proud men and women regain control of their lives starts with small steps.

One step occurs after a homeless veteran has found housing. Operation Stand Down screens the veteran to identify their challenges and ensure they are eligible for assistance. Then, they contact Goodwill to request a gift card through its community assistance program — Goodwill Cares.

In 2014, Goodwill Cares provided families and individuals in need with 922 gift cards worth more than $20,000 in merchandise, often through partner agencies like Operation Stand Down Tennessee.

Using the cards, veterans are able to purchase home goods such as pots and pans, couches and dressers. He said Operation Stand Down employees coach veterans on using the gift cards wisely, such as shopping on the first Saturday when all Goodwill merchandise is half-off.

“We try to establish the hand up, not handout thing,” he said. “We want them to do the legwork. … It teaches them to be smart with their resources and learn how to budget.”

The veterans are always appreciative, he said.

“A lot of them are working off fixed income and any little bit helps. Making a place their own is a huge deal.”

Read the Winter 2015 edition of The Ambassador – Goodwill’s quarterly magazine which provides readers with stories of events, activities and the inspiring changes Goodwill is making in the lives of others.

About Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee, Inc.

For more than 55 years Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee has provided job training and job placement free of charge to people with disabilities or other barriers to employment through the sale of donated items. In 2014, Goodwill served 28,159 people in Middle and West Tennessee and placed 9.558 people in jobs. More information about Goodwill’s Career Solutions, retail stores and donation centers can be obtained online at  www.giveit2goodwill.org or by calling 1-800-545-9231

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