HIGHLAND — Having given years of their lives for their country, some veterans gave back to their local communities.
Graduates of Veterans Life Changing Services in Gary helped cook for and serve underprivileged residents Saturday at Gladys’ Table, a monthly soup kitchen at First Presbyterian Church in Highland.
“We’ve been blessed, and veterans are always trying to give back to the community,” said Lorese Wesley, executive director of VLCS.
VLCS, in the former St. Mark Church rectory along West Ridge Road, is designed specifically for veterans, to assist service personnel with housing, clinical support services and in their transition back to civilian life.
Among the meal volunteers was Cecil Jones, a VLCS graduate who recently found custodial work in Chicago. Moving from Los Angeles to Gary to be with his son, he faced some domestic issues.
“VLCS came through and changed my life,” said Jones, who served in the Army. “They gave me the tools to succeed. They taught me patience, camaraderie and how to help myself.”
Jones added, “I feel I have to give back. This [service] helps me emotionally and mentally. I’ve been helped, and I want to give back.”
JoAnn Whitaker, another Army veteran and VLCS graduate, had been homeless. Whitaker called VLCS a “real blessing in my life.”
Through the transitional housing VLCS provides, Whitaker was able to have her own place.
“Life is “not just about receiving, but giving," Whitaker said of volunteering.
Jones served two years in the service, while Whitaker served 10 years during the Vietnam War era. Both served in Germany.
“Everyone has faced adversities,” Jones continued. “Veterans, whether they served in war or not, are no strangers to this. This [soup kitchen] event motivates us to deal with our struggles and help others with theirs.”
Named for Gladys Radke, a founding member of First Presbyterian Church, Gladys’ Table is open the last Saturday of the month. Wesley cited the church’s commitment to her agency. This includes a monthly financial gift to VLCS, which relies solely on donations until grant money is approved.
Arletta Schaefer, a deacon of the church, is a VLCS board member and regular volunteer. Her late husband, Robert, served with the Marines in the Korean War. Schaefer noted that while her church had various ministries, it had nothing for military veterans.
“We needed to do something for them, and we decided to have fundraisers,” Schaefer said.
In addition, every three weeks the church invites veterans to pray with its members.
Schaefer said it’s important to support groups such as VLCS for “the way they love and respect the men and women who gave their lives for their country. It lets the world know what we’re trying to do for them. There’s a lot of love.”
For more information on Veterans Life Changing Services, contact Arletta Schaefer at 219-455-6689 or visit veteranslcs.org.