Our Success Stories

Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 9.26.24 PMI was in Vietnam. There were 600 rounds fired at us every day. You can’t get scared. You cant let yourself feel joy or sorrow, anything except anger. You go from a war zone back to the United States, and you figure, ‘Okay, I’m home.’ Well, no. You’re not. It’s not something that you leave behind. It’s something you carry in you all the time. You don’t get home. The first time I talked to a psychiatrist, he told me I was suffering from PTSD, I had no idea what that was. Thanks to Volunteers of America of Florida, today I have my own home. My daughters are a part of my life again. I have a granddaughter and she wants to come stay with me.


Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 9.26.40 PMI was a drug addict. I drank. I was in denial. My children were taken from me when they were young and I was cut off from my family. I didn’t have anything to live for. Volunteers of America of Florida was good to me. I started in a one- bedroom apartment and they were willing to help me open my own cleaning business. I was able to move forward. I try to give back what I can. Volunteers of America of Florida has been a blessing to me. Yesterday, I had nothing to live for. Today, I have everything to live for. I even have grandchildren— of my own.


Screen Shot 2013-12-08 at 9.26.30 PMI had several health problems come up at the same time and found myself unable to work. I couldn’t meet the rent where I was living in Ft. Lauderdale and couldn’t find anything affordable. I took the money I would have used for an apartment and bought a Greyhound bus pass. For six years, I lived on a Greyhound bus. Then I found my way to Pine Grove, a Volunteers of America of Florida housing complex in Gainesville. The best thing I can say about Pine Grove is that I hope I die there. I don’t want to go to a nursing home. That’s the best thing about Pine Grove—the independent living. I know I can be there until the end.


samuelMr. Samuel Graham was enrolled into and provided employment services through the Cocoa HVRP last year. HVRP staff assisted him with becoming employed in the Housekeeping Department at the Courtyard Marriott. Samuel started his employment as a housekeeper, and during the past year, he displayed a work ethic which earned him an “Employee of the Month Award” and most recently, “Associate of the Year for 2016.”

He has since been promoted to being the Supervisor of the Laundry Department at the Courtyard Marriott. Congratulations to Samuel for a job well done!

KendraKendra W. came in the program in 2012.  She enrolled in school at Sheridan Technical College and graduated April 2016 in Practical Nursing.  She is currently studying to take the Licensed Practical Nursing boards.

Haunted by a childhood filled with brutal and systematic physical and sexual abuse, she attempted suicide to escape the misery of living with a mental health issue and a drug addiction. Kendra has managed to triumph despite a tortured past and despite being homeless.

This is Kendra’s story in her own words:

I realized that I had become worse than the family I grew up in, and that was devastating. My childhood was filled with threats and getting beaten daily; week in, week out. My whole life was filled with horror and terror and lies and I vowed that I would never be like my family. And there I was doing cocaine… I hated everything about myself. I knew my future would never be good. I was suicidal from the age of six. My life was not worth living. There was no chance to turn it into anything better. I was disgusting. I hated how my parents raised me. My life was filled with broken promises and lies and people stealing and people beating me and people hating me and me hating myself even more.


My life changed when I met the staff at Volunteers of America of Florida. I met people who believed in me and I in turn began to believe in myself. I woke up and realized; ‘This is not what is intended for your life, you shouldn’t be drinking and doing drugs. There is more to life.’ I didn’t want to be homeless for another minute after that. I was always terrified I would be raped or beaten or kidnapped because the. I was a kid who, between the ages of three to 16, was abused and molested. The emotions were still there. You try to push this back but when you’re homeless, it is at the forefront of your mind all the time and it was terrifying to me.


With the support of Volunteers of America of Florida, I was able to have a safe place to put my life in order, go back to school, and now my goal is to be an example and inspiration for people who have been in a similar situation.

Chaplain Vanessa Pena shared a story that is an excellent demonstration of her ability to engage others, forge relationships, manage change and promote our ministry of service:

Jose, an elderly gentlemen at one of our independent living facilities, was referred to me because he was lonely. Jose wasn’t just lonely, he was depressed and quite lifeless. He was extremely thin, not groomed, with a questionable quality of life but sound of mind and refused all help. When I started to visit him my visits wouldn’t last longer than 5 minutes. He was fairly private and answered all questions just the right way to avoid any lingering moment. As the months went on I found out he was completely alone with no family or friends and wavering faith. His wife died under his care, she was his everything. After she died none of their friends or family spoke to him again. Essentially, a part of him died with her.

Jose, lived day in day out wearing the same clothes, with a long ungroomed beard and his hair was knotted in dreads; this was all his choosing and there was one thing he was certain about and that was he did NOT want help and he did NOT need to be changed. The building he lived in tried all efforts and measures to help him, but there was no progress. I was humbled by this gentlemen’s openness to allow me into his home, even when the conditions weren’t favorable and the air stale.

After 5 months of visiting him and taking him pastries and café con leche on occasion, I built a relationship. A relationship that continues to warm my heart and drives me to be relentless to help those that God places in my path.

On his birthday in September, he accepted my gift of a haircut. A good family friend is a barber and agreed to go to Jose’s home and groom him. Jose was unrecognizable! He was transformed! I was ecstatic to see his face for the first time, but noticed mild differences in his demeanor. It was almost like Jose wasn’t able to hide anymore behind the hair and he was being revealed to the world.

A few months later he fell. Jose was found on the floor by his cleaning lady. He was soiled, and fatigued of energy. He was sent to the hospital. I was notified by co-workers of the incident. To see Jose in a hospital bed, unable to move, nauseas, tearful, and alone was heart wrenching. It didn’t matter how often I visited him, or how much food I brought, or the haircut, his reality was still the same, he was alone. Fascinating enough Jose didn’t break any bone. He had no ailments but was addressed to be malnourished and a minor incision was done to correct the injury from the fall.

The hospital ‘happened to be’ (no coincidences in life, I believe) on my way home. Nearly every day I visited him and it started with “Oh, I’ll go by and quickly visit Jose” to “Well, let me set out 45 minutes to go visit him.” His demeanor had changed! He had never spoken to me so much and been so verbal. He was angry that he didn’t die, he was sad to be alone, he was anxious to get out of bed, he was REACTIVE, what a breakthrough!

My purpose in his life was illuminated when it was time for him to be discharged. There was a lot of back and forth about where he should/could go. After many discussions with the doctors and social workers Jose decided he could not go back to his apartment. He did not want to be alone anymore, he gave up on waiting for death, and he wanted to live. One evening when I went to visit he notified me he was going home. Home? Where was home? He was unsure where they were sending him, but per the doctor it would be home. I inquired with the Social Worker where he would be going and she gave me the information for a small home (Assisted Living Facility) in a crime filled area relatively far from his community of 20 years. The social worker informed me to please call the home as there were certain items he needed to be transported with. With Jose’s permission, I called the home and spoke with the owner whom advised that he was going out of his way to accept Jose because of his low income and his frail condition; he blatantly said he was doing a favor not a business transaction and he was a business man.

I was truly outraged by the owner’s comments and strong concern that Jose needed to enter his doors with cash to pay upfront. I expressed my concerns to Jose and the Social Worker and they both agreed to find another place. It was late that night, discharge orders were in place, and Jose needed to find a home. After several phone interviews with ALF’s and with the help of the hospital social worker we found a home in a predominately Hispanic community that seemed to be a good fit. Jose was transferred to his new home and is currently learning how to use a computer, attending exercise classes, enchanted by a woman at his home, and has gained 6 pounds. He is happy, he is living and he is healthy. Jose is the quintessence of why I am privileged to be a chaplain at Volunteers of America of Florida.

SHERYLSheryl B. was admitted to the Volunteers of America of Florida Supportive Housing Program in June 11, 2009. As a single mother of three kids, Sheryl faced a lot of challenges during her life, including a PTSD diagnosis, a history of alcohol dependence, and domestic violence. Even with all the challenges she has been through, in May 2016 Sheryl obtained an Associate Degree in Sciences (Nursing, R.N.) from the Miami-Dade College. It should be noted that Sheryl is one of only six students that graduated. In addition, Sheryl passed her test in order to get the license as a Registered Nurse.

One of the youngest veterans in our Punta Gorda Program, at just 22 years of age, has been struggling to find work in our area. With many in our area running into the same problem, we played host to our first mobile Job-Link event here at Punta Gorda Veterans Village, on May 3. The Job-Link is a mobile unit that brings technology and expertise to a location and can help with all aspects of the job-search process. It is sponsored in the Punta Gorda area by Goodwill.

This young veteran was one of the first on the “bus” (Mobile Job Link Unit), completed his resume, and applied for a job with Goodwill itself. He received a call for an interview THE NEXT DAY, and after a lengthy and positive interview, was offered a job on the sales floor at $10 per hour!

This bright, personable young man will thrive interacting with customers in this patient, helpful environment. His self-confidence has soared since getting the job, and he is better able to cope with stressful situations. He also renewed his commitment to attending group and individual counseling, as he now sees their value and wishes to build on his success.

Failure happens to everyone. Yet just as rain can lead to rainbows, mistakes can pave the way for valuable lessons that foster improvements. Case in point, Mr. Bantam Rooster. Mr. Rooster came to the Volunteers of America of Florida Ritz disillusioned and depressed. There were a few rough years, with a dangerous lack of sleep, as well as daily burdens. Mr. Rooster got himself out of a home with a reported abusive and controlling relative. He was freeing himself from a destructive cycle.

Mr. Rooster is an Army veteran. He is diagnosed with PTSD; Anxiety Disorder; Hypertension; Insomnia; GERD; Tinnitus; and Peripheral Vascular Disease. He has not been gainfully employed for over two years. He has filed for VA Service Connected Disability Benefit; and Social Security Disability Income claim is in appeal process. During his stay at the Ritz, Mr. Rooster established a Life Plan with his Counselor. After successfully completing his life plan, Mr. Rooster achieved self-sufficiency by obtaining income from the VA and Social Security. Mr. Rooster relocated to another state and after four months he telephoned this Counselor to report, that with family support and his income, he now has a house and is a productive member of his community. Mr. Rooster has joint custody of his son and is able to maintain a stable lifestyle.

Mr. Rooster had a goal for the future. He learned to budget, plan, and wait. The strength and resolve Mr. Rooster acquired at the VOA Ritz opened doors full of incredible opportunities. Mr. Rooster was able to overcome the fears of past failures and stepped beyond his self-doubt. Even with all the challenges that life threw his way, Mr. Rooster is living his dream.

James M. entered the Manatee Veterans Village in August, 2015. At that time, James was unable to complete any task without assistance. James needed help filling out the screening paperwork. James needed help with making decision on whether or not to make a phone call. James needed help with what to eat for lunch. James was totally dependent on seeking help form other people to the point that no one wanted to help him.

James was given the responsibility of opening and closing the computer room in the morning and at night. James also took on the responsibility to clean the community room and kitchen. James had to be directed step by step as to what needed to be done next. Slowly, James began to work independently, and his demeanor improved to the point of wanting to do more. James was given the opportunity during this process to reflect back on his accomplishments. James said, “I have come a long way, and my wife would be proud of me.”

James was referred to Goodwill Industries and applied for a job. Edward Robinson, the Veteran Services Advisor, prepared James for the interview. James needed two full days to prepare for the interview. James had no transportation and needed to take the bus. He was provided a bus pass through donations from the Disabled American Veteran Post #18. James said, “I was on time for the interview and I think I did well.” James was reluctant to follow-up with the interview and had to be encouraged to find out the results of the interview. Although James was not selected for that position, Mr. Robinson was working on finding another opening for James.

James applied for the position of cashier at the main store in Bradenton. James felt comfortable and qualified for this position. James stated, “I have been in charge of a cash register before and I like counting money. This is something I can do.”

James got the job. For about a month and half, James took the bus to and from work. He had to change buses at the main station and still got to work on time. Today James in driving his car, a donation to him from the DAV Post #18, to and from work everyday. James is now totally independent from staff and working on finding stable housing.