VOA provides a lifeline for individuals struggling to escape homelessness: Shelter services, case management, housing, counseling, job readiness and other supports not only help people get back on their feet, it ensures they stay that way.
“It’s not just providing food and shelter, … we need to provide them the resources, the skills, the tools to heal from the traumas they’ve experienced that may have caused homelessness,” says Christie Holderegger, Regional Vice President of VOA Northern Nevada. “We’re helping them build the foundation they need to weather life’s storms.”
VOA works hand-in-hand with other nonprofits, local businesses, faith communities, individuals and government agencies to make a difference in people’s lives. The organization functions through support from the public to deliver comprehensive programming and make a positive impact in the lives of those they serve.
“Individual donors, through their giving, communicate to those we serve that they care about them, they understand their situation, they’re here to support them, and they want them to succeed,” she says. “We all need community to thrive, and it’s really a community that’s established through individual giving.”
‘When you see somebody hurting, don’t turn your back on them’
Encouraged by his pastor, Gary Arthur went to the VOA-run shelter on Record Street to offer assistance and a few turkey sandwiches. He was shocked to see not only the shelter population, but the people living in tents outside the shelter.
“When you see somebody hurting, don’t turn your back on them. If you can do something, then do something to help. With VOA, I was just really impressed with them,” he says. “VOA has a from-the-heart desire to help people who are at a low point in their lives. I didn’t see anything formal about it or contrived in any way.”
Arthur says working with VOA enables him to combine his efforts with others to achieve greater things than he could as an individual.
“There’s a whole-person approach that VOA takes to uplifting people,” he says. “VOA offers that because they’ve worked with thousands of people. You can tell that they know all the different components to help a person to be fully functioning to the best of their ability.”
‘I have a responsibility to take notice of those on the street’
With a background in mental health work, Susie Lewis knows how complicated getting help can be for those with mental illness, including individuals also experiencing homelessness. For the past 10 years, she’s supported VOA as a donor, her way of giving back to her community.
“I have a responsibility to take notice of those on the street. … By the grace of God I do have shelter, food, and an income. Anything I can do to help those who—for a myriad of reasons—have made it to this place in their life, I need to do for my community,” she says. “I am so grateful we have (VOA) here in Reno for several reasons: They care, they understand the complicated nature of homelessness, they are loving and nonjudgmental, (and) they know how to partner with the city and law enforcement. As part of the Reno community, I feel it is my job to do my part.”
‘VOA were the ones who loved me and cared for me as a human being’
Tres Benzley knows firsthand how transformative a little love and support can be. Today, he owns his own business and is nearly 16 years sober, but in the past he struggled with homelessness. He credits VOA with helping him get his life back.
“I was in a really dark place and I had burned all the bridges that I had. VOA were the ones who loved me and cared for me as a human being. They treated me like a human (and) they allowed me to rebuild my life,” he says. “I think it’s so important that we work on destigmatizing that view of our (homeless) community throughout this. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be human kind.”
As an evergreen VOA member and ambassador, Benzley helps those trying to escape homelessness. Through one of VOA’s Reno Works program, he serves formerly homeless jobseekers at his Reno salon, Caliber Hair & Makeup Studio.
“I was there and it’s possible to become a productive member of society,” he says. “It just takes some time, some work and support.”
To see how you can contribute, visit www.voa-ncnn.org or call 775-331-4166 to see how your skills can serve those in need.