Vets for a Change Reaches Out at the Geranium Festival

Mary Mangual, Student Life Editor

Before ten o’clock on May 16, Mitzi Carr finished arranging a table in front of The Office Group building on the McDonough square. The final touch was a red, white, and blue bunting. Above it she set trifold brochures and other literature that explained why she was spending all morning in the hot sun. From across the street she had a view of the backs of white tents in position for the Geranium Festival. Every few minutes or so she would get up and stand in the shade of the big tree at the side of the road to cool down before resuming her post. She didn’t have the shade of the white tents and wasn’t close enough to see the local crafts and smell the goat milk soap. Yet she smiled at every group that passed by and if they stopped, she explained the mission of Vets for a Change, a group of concerned citizens united by a singular success last year.

Out of the more than twenty thousand veterans in Henry County approximately four hundred are homeless. But sometimes even such a large number can have such a small voice. Last year however, it was heard at the city hall when one homeless veteran came looking for help. A year later that person is fully employed and in a home. “If we could do that for one person we should be able to do duplicate that over and over and help more than just one person,” Said Carr.

When one of the VA’s Mobile Vet Centers came for the first time to McDonough in April another veteran realized he was entitled to 35,000 dollars for educational expenses. He had no idea.

The organizers of Vets for a Change realized that many veterans are unaware of the services available to them. Using a growing database, they are collecting resources to provide veterans with support ranging from basic needs to rehabilitation to employment. Emily Mangual, another volunteer at the festival asked, “What good are these services if they aren’t connected with the people who need them?”

That’s the next step. The services are already there, and Vets for a Change wants to connect them to the right people.

Vets for a Change hopes to set up a three-day-a-week center at the McDonough American Legion where veterans can come and get help to navigate the services available to them in the community. They are currently raising money to establish the center. The United Way has promised to match penny for penny the first twenty thousand dollars raised. Carr thinks the money could really make a difference. “We’re hoping for the homeless veterans that they can come in, and we can assist them with housing, with food, with clothing. We have a group of employers who are willing to interview to see if maybe that would be a great placement for them. We’ll use some of the funding to help lift transportation fees whether it’s to job interviews or to the doctor. We’re hoping to make a multi-purpose center for American veterans.”

Right after the table was set up Mac Mutter led his family across the street to see it. He himself is a veteran. “I was a drill sergeant. I was an instructor. I was a military musician. I spent twenty-two years in the army. I was in Berlin Germany when the wall came down.” He said.

Because he is a retiree Mutter has already received medical benefits for his service, but he knows that other veterans are not always aware of what services they can use. “I go to church in east Griffin.” He said, “It is a very, very poor church in a bad community and there are a lot of veterans that attend there and they don’t know about this stuff so I took a lot of the brochures to share with them on that.”

He explained why it is important that Americans honor veterans, “I was in twenty-two years and never had to go to war. Our veterans now a days are going two, three, and four times to war zones fighting. They’re seeing horrible, horrible things coming back…Our country owes them.”

Another man who has gotten involved with Vets for a Change is Sergeant Rick Berry, who said he initially heard about the program through another veteran. “There are many programs for veterans.” He said, “They all have different missions. Vets for a Change has a great mission… I hope that vets who deserve their benefits get them.” Berry was also at the Geranium festival with the Lions Club on Saturday.

The main goal of Vets for a Change table at the Geranium festival was to pass on information about upcoming locations of a Mobile Vet Center which connects veterans with benefits available through the Veterans Administration and will be at the McDonough American Legion on May 27 and at the Hampton Depot on May 29. Carr hopes that the turnout will demonstrate the need for the three-day-a-week center. “We should have zero homeless veterans. It’s sad that any veteran is homeless after they’ve served so that I can have a home and freedom.” She said.

Kaela George, a freshman taking classes from West Georgia remembers how her uncle suffered upon reentering civilian life after serving in Vietnam. She said that people labeled it as a “bad war.” She thinks that veterans should be connected with benefits because, “It’s good that they know they are needed and appreciated in society.”

The Ola High School Junior Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps was also present at the festival selling their popcorn and pretzels. Later in the morning, Vets for a Change sent them some brochures in an effort to spread awareness. After hearing about the program’s initiative, some Ola AFJROTC students discussed how veterans are treated in society. Shane Bladock, sophomore, and Ian Bladock, senior, think that while veterans are more respected now than in the past, they should still be more respected.

Ashley Shaw, sophomore, agreed, “A veteran should not just be treated like a normal citizen. Because of what they’ve been through they deserve more.”

All veterans are invited to the Mobile Vet Center on May 27 and 29. For more information see the Vet’s for a Change Facebook page.