Looking back on a year past can be a mixed bag of emotions; regret, joy, pride, sorrow, wonder, surprise, love… When our small staff looked back over 2014 for Veterans Matter, our strongest feeling, arcing beautifully above all the others, was gratitude. We are entering into 2015 with lessons learned, excited for new possibilities and over new ideas, but what’s really fueling our ambitious commitment to house at least 1500 more homeless veterans in 2015 is how thankful we are in several ways:
- In February, three new chapters joined when Indiana raised over $37,000 in just 11 hours to start Operation Indiana, and Seattle, WA, secured funds to get veterans housed in their area. The third, Operation Tennessee, formed when Kix Brooks recommitted his support after his 2013 participation.
- By our May radio broadcast campaign, generously hosted by the Cumulus Media network, 14 musicians and celebrities had signed on to our roster of famous supporters. They not only lent their face to the campaign, but most of them also lent their voice by recording PSAs, some even making their own video. These PSAs went nationwide and, together with other campaign efforts, put 50 more veterans into safe, permanent housing.
- Also in May, we celebrated housing our 250th veteran/veteran family. Since the launch of the Veterans Matter program by parent nonprofit 1Matters.org in February 2012, our team had worked closely with regional VASH managers in seven chapters, the most recent one being Operation Michigan. This newest chapter took off in March when author, journalist and broadcaster Mitch Albom’s foundation donated an amazing $15,000, immediately housing 16 veterans in Michigan.
- A few folks in Washington sat up and took notice of our program’s success and invited Veterans Matter founder Ken Leslie to visit the White House in June to be part of a national commitment and push to end veteran homelessness by 2015.
- When Toledo, OH, experienced a water crisis in early August, Veterans Matter was honored to b a part of a large joint effort to get water to housebound veterans as well as to the area’s shelters. The compassion we saw in action still brings tears to our eyes.
- Over the next six months, we would double our success and house another 250 veterans. That’s right… what had taken us over two years to accomplish had gained momentum and allowed us to celebrate housing our 500th veteran/veteran family by Veteran’s Day in November.
- Along the way, we added a couple more famous friends to our cause. Susan Sarandon, no stranger to campaigning on behalf of the unhoused, recorded her PSA in late September. Country duo Big & Rich recorded their own video PSA on the streets of New York.
- And we’ll never forget what Katy Perry’s generosity did when we auctioned off a VIP concert package that included a backstage meet-and-greet. The money raised housed 22 veterans, and the winner, Scott Vaughn, decided he wanted to house veterans in his area and initiated the Mid-Atlantic chapter. (By the way, Scott’s continuing to personally invest in his idea by committing to match donations up to $5,000 through January 31, 2015. Click here to double your donation!)
- Throughout the year, various fundraisers occurred to keep the momentum going. From CD release parties from local musicians, to Toledo’s annual 1Mile Matters walk that benefited Veterans Matter, people showed up, took action, and gave from the heart.
- Even after our May campaign ended, some of our celebrity friends were still talking about us, posting to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. A simple post by Kid Rock on Facebook in August housed two more veterans/veteran families in his home state of Michigan. In November, Stevie Nicks, Darius Rucker, Big & Rich, Natalie Stovall & the Drive, Mitch Albom, Kix Brooks, and Susan Sarandon tweeted, and another flood of funding came in to house more veterans.
- In December, Ken flew out (with donated air miles from supporters) to the NJ national headquarters of Rolling Thunder, the all-veteran motorcycle group. He joined Mid-Atlantic chapter members Ki Magee, Cameron Kaufman, and Doug Harts. This awesome group let us talk about our mission, then shared their Christmas dinner with us.
Most significant of all, people like you – probably YOU specifically – took a moment and made a donation. Whether it was a much-needed one-time gift or a pledge of allegiance to regularly get more heroes and their families off our nation’s streets, you made ending veteran homeless REAL for over 325 servicemen and –women in 2014 alone. Because you’ve given in the last (almost) three years, nearly 800 people, including over 200 children, have a roof over their heads and a place to sleep, dream, and start new lives.
You – YOU – make us proud and grateful to be doing this work with you. Thank you, and Happy 2015.
With all our thank-filled hearts,
Ken Leslie & the Veterans Matter team (Shawn, Evelyn, Abby & Amanda)