Vets Returning Home program gets pick-me-up from the OCBA

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A $20,000 boost was given to the Vets Returning Home program November 3 in a check presentation ceremony at the OCBA offices in Bloomfield Hills. Pictured (l-r) are Sandy Bower of Vets Returning Home, attorney Mike Schloff, and Sue Maczko, the OCBA Finance Director and staff liaison to the Veterans Law Committee.

Photo by Tom Kirvan

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

November 3, a day that saw the Vets Returning Home program receive a $20,000 financial shot-in-the-arm from the Oakland County Bar Association, stands in stark contrast to a time some 20 months ago when the nonprofit housing center in Roseville was on the verge of shutting its doors as an early victim of the pandemic.

The dramatic change of fortunes was celebrated by officials from both organizations at the OCBA’s monthly board meeting, where an oversized check for $20K was presented to Vets Returning Home and its founder Sandy Bower.   

“On March 14, 2020, we planned to hold our annual gala, at which we expected to raise upwards of $60,000,” Bower said on Wednesday. “On March 13, the day before the gala, we were forced to cancel the event because of the shutdown caused by the pandemic.”

To compound the cancellation problem, the major food supplier for the housing shelter also was shuttered, according to Bower.

“The Royalty House (Banquet Facility in Warren) has generously provided daily meals for our vets for years, and suddenly they were shut down, unable to hold weddings and other big gatherings because of the virus spread,” Bower said. “So, there we were with the prospect of no money and no food. It was looking grim.”

Especially since the center was providing beds and meals for 43 veterans at the time, even squeezing in two more vets who slept on cots.

“We were over our capacity, but the need was so great that we had to find room,” said Bower, the former owner of Empire Payments, a credit-card processing company.

Fortunately, said Bower, the “community came to the rescue” of the program, furnishing financial support to “help keep our doors open” until a sense of normalcy could resume.

The Vets Returning Home center is a 11,000-square-foot facility that houses more than 40 male and female vets at a time, providing more than 800 onsite meals per week. It also operates an adjoining resource center for those seeking job counseling, legal aid, medical and dental help, and guidance in combatting substance abuse issues.

The center was the brainchild of Bower, who was homeless in Detroit at the age of 14 and a single mother by 15.

“By October of 2013, Sandy was retired from her well-established career yet felt she could do more to support a philanthropic cause,” said Wendy Clem, of the Eastpointe chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which in September presented Bower with the DAR Medal of Honor. “Her early life experiences had given her an appreciation for the plights of the homeless and further research revealed that veterans returning from service have definitive needs. Sandy knew she could not only help them, but also had the drive to do so.”

To such a degree that Bower “used her retirement savings to purchase the former Red Cross building in Roseville,” eventually turning it into the nonprofit center now known as Vets Returning Home.

For years, the Veterans Law Committee of the OCBA has held a golf outing each fall to help provide support for the center, according to attorney Mike Schloff, who chaired the 2021 event at the Links at Crystal Lake course in Pontiac. This year, the event raised more than $20,000, money that was funneled directly to the Vets Returning Home program.

“The Oakland Bar has been great to us in so many ways, helping us with funds from the golf outing and also with pro bono legal services for our vets,” said Bower. “We are incredibly grateful for the support.”

Another component of the center’s fund-raising efforts is a vehicle donation program that has been a “game-changer” for many vets, according to Bower.

“When a vehicle is donated to us, we hand the keys right to a deserving vet so that they can have transportation for work, school, and other important needs,” said Bower.

For those interested in learning more about the nonprofit program, visit www.vetsreturninghome.org.

 

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