As fall temperatures begin to drop, coordinators and volunteers at Lake County's Veteran's Assistance Commission are beginning to intensify their efforts in preparation for its annual Veteran's Stand Down.
A Stand Down is a military term defined as “a refitting or resetting for the next mission.” For Lake County VAC Coordinators, it is an opportunity for federal, state, county and local organizations to work together to address the increasing need of assisting military veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, and who may need additional assistance during difficult times. According to Mike Peck, Director of the Lake County Veteran's Assistance Commission, “The need has increased. I am expecting 300 veterans this year.”
Peck added that “Per the Illinois Department of Employment Security, Lake County has approximately 4,500 unemployed veterans. Over 782 veterans are on food stamps and considered ‘at risk.’ Lake County also has a homeless veteran population that fluctuates between 60-100 persons at any given time. The number is based on those served at the VA hospital, PADS shelter estimates, and those seeking services at the Veteran’s Assistance Center.”
Components of a Stand Down include assessment for medical needs, referral, housing assistance, employment opportunities and other services.
“We try to provide a path toward self-sustained living,” said Peck. In addition, as many of those seeking services are homeless or ‘at risk,’ winter clothing is made available. "With winter approaching, we try to provide appropriate clothing at the end of the Stand Down. It is as much about helping them stay warm as well as trying to restore a sense of dignity to our vets.”
In previous years, a Libertyville-area resident personally funded the component of providing winter clothing. However, with a worsening economy, the individual was unable to continue with his generous donation. Coordinators had two options: move ahead without the component of issuing the coats or network to find additional support to meet the need.
“A few years back, Grayslake North Football was conducting a coat drive at a football game. Coach Steve Wood became aware of the need and donated the coats that were collected,” said Vernon Hills Police Deputy Chief Jon Petrillo. “They were conducting the coat drive during the North versus Central football rivalry game, the turnout was very high, and the contribution was significant. I thought, if we could replicate this at a couple other venues, we would meet the need.”
The concept was floated to Vernon Hills High School Resource Office Jeff Cielak, and in the same season, Vernon Hills High School coordinated a coat drive during a big game versus Grant. Word of the concept began to spread throughout the North Suburban Conference.
The coat drive for Vernon Hills High School will be conducted during the Homecoming Game on Friday, Oct. 5, when the Cougars host North Chicago.
For 2012, Libertyville High School joined in the effort. Fresh after its football team conducted SEAL-type training during summer workouts, its students will now have the opportunity to play for former sailors and soldiers on the field. The Wildcats will be conducting their coat drive on Friday, Sept. 21.
“Libertyville gets it,” said Police Chief Clint Herdegen. “Libertyville High School chose to conduct the coat drive when playing against local rival Mundelein, and they chose to conduct the drive during Homecoming, when maybe a few graduates, perhaps a few prior LHS service members, will be able to share in the effort. The Libertyville community gets it and we are proud to participate in such a meaningful event.”
Kelly Angelos, Senior Student Council Sponsor stated, “Our students have conducted a drive each year for various charities. But, this year, when we learned of the local need, we were very excited to begin helping our own. Our Seniors wanted the event to be special, so they chose the Homecoming game. We are so honored to be helping veterans in need.”
Seniors Pitch In
When the ladies of the Knitting Club, a group of sassy seniors who reside at The Park, an active-living community in Vernon Hills heard about the effort of high school students assisting veterans, their members wanted to assist.
“They don’t play football,” joked Sherri Imperial, Activities Coordinator, “but they can still contribute.”
The Knitting Club meets one day a week, and creates hand knitted headgear for cancer patients and blankets for newborn babies. Imperial stated, “The club can easily produce enough winter scarves to provide for each veteran.”
Deputy Chief Jon Petrillo and his staff frequently stop by on Fridays when the club meets to offer encouragement.
“Let’s go ladies—don’t make me institute a quota on each of you,” jokes Petrillo. “The ladies have always come through. They hit the goal of 125 last year, and I am sure they will make their numbers this year. And, the personal touch of giving each veteran the gift of warmth is very special.”
The 2012 Stand Down will be held Oct. 16 at the Veteran’s Assistance Commission, 20 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave, Waukegan.
Coat collection points include Libertyville High School, the Libertyville Police Department, Vernon Hills High School and the Vernon Hills Police Department. Other communities involved in the coat drive include Palatine, Lake Villa, Grayslake and Round Lake Beach.
- The Vernon Hills Police Department provided this information.