“They didn’t make bad choices or do anything wrong – they had tough lives. And we help them.”
These are wise words from Greg Anglea. Greg is the Executive Director of Interfaith Services of San Diego, and he works for the Veterans Assistance department. His primary function is helping to provide resources to veterans who are in need located in North San Diego County.
Founded in 1979, Greg came on board to Interfaith nearly a decade ago. He is part of a staff of 130 people, but they happily are outnumbered by a few thousand volunteers. The veterans assistance department provides the services of employment support, housing (transitional and helping with rent payment), health one-to-one care, intervention on becoming homeless, and much more.
“I had a desire to help people and work in a profession focused on helping others,” says Greg, who has a master’s degree in Non-Profit Leadership and Management. “I found this group of diverse faith communities that help people in crisis.”
“I’ve had very close relationship with many active duty military and veterans, and I think most people in San Diego have,” Greg shares. “One in three people here in our community are either veterans, active military or a member of their family is. That’s one million of our three million residents in this county.”
Greg has enjoyed working with veterans and seeing how the center has changed their lives. One story has really stuck with him, as well as his coworkers and volunteers.
He tells the story of a man named Al. He was a foster child and raised in Texas by parents who just needed a farm hand. “They merely picked the biggest kid they could find,” Greg says, expanding on the further heartless nature of the dysfunctional family. “When he was just 18, they took him to a recruiting depot, signed him up for the Army and said he wasn’t welcome at home anymore.”
After serving a few tours in Vietnam, Al came back and didn’t know what to do. He thought he found love when he got married and had a daughter, but the woman ended up leaving him alone with his child. Al showed the child the devotion and love he was missing all throughout his adolescence, and took action.
“They were homeless and he enrolled in one of our early employment programs to get a transportation driving license,” Greg said. “He drove big rigs and earned enough of a salary to support himself, so we moved him into a family housing program so we could get an apartment for both him and his daughter.”
Going through Interfaith Services led both Al and his daughter to success. “While he was in the program, his daughter was valedictorian of her school, even when she was homeless,” Greg said with pride. “She went to college and he continues to ride a big rig.” He said Al still drops by sometimes, parking his big rig across the street and coming in to eat breakfast with people who were once in his position.
Though he sees success stories build before his eyes, it doesn’t come without road blocks to that success. “Employment is a big hurdle for the people we work with,” he says. “The employers are interested in the veterans, who have the skill set, but it’s hard to find an employer willing to take chances when they have a gap in employment history.”
He also said that living situations can be unsteady with the veterans they help. “Landlords who can’t accept a gap in housing are difficult,” he continued. “We pay for their first and last month’s rent, but yes, the landlords can be difficult.”
When the people who aren’t willing to support veterans get Greg down, he thinks of inspiring people in his life. One of them is John Stryker Meyer, who wrote the book “Across the Fence: The Secret War in Vietnam”.
“J. Stryker was dedicated to helping other veterans, and we hired him to do outreach 7 or 8 years ago,” he remembers. “We lost funding for that position but he continued to work unpaid as a volunteer many years after that. His work was critical to us on raising the profile on us in the community.”
When veterans get back on their feet enough to build savings and have a stable employment history, Greg feels every veteran should look into their benefits, like the GI Bill and the VA home loan. “We do a lot of financial planning and financial literacy,” Greg says. “Big parts of what we do as an agency, is that the VA comes and works here on site. We work hand-in-hand to send people to the VA.”
If you are a veteran in the San Diego area needing assistance, visit this link for your resources available at Interfaith Services. To help the organization by donating, volunteering or sharing their info on social networking, click here. Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.