Philadelphia center opens to serve female veterans

By The Associated Press


PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Officials have opened the first Philadelphia center to provide services specifically for female veterans.

Coordinator Aronda Smith, who served in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm, told The Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday that the facility will provide opportunity and support for women vets.

It’s on the ground floor of the five-story nonprofit Veterans Multi-Service Center, which has provided services to male veterans since 1980 and to female veterans since the mid-1990s.

Smith said services and workshops will cover areas such as health and wellness, credit counseling, networking, employment counseling, parenting after combat, yoga, and home ownership.

She said “military sexual trauma” has become a significant problem among female veterans, who make up 3 to 5 percent of the more than 82,000 veterans in Philadelphia.

New Philly veterans center dedicated to women

By Emma Jacobs


WHYY Newsworks



The Philadelphia area has its first service center dedicated exclusively to female veterans of the U.S. military.

Women Veterans Center coordinator Aronda Smith said she wants to make sure women receive the same level of service offered to men.

"The miltary is really male dominated," she said. "Some of the experiences, [women] may not want to talk about or share. Or they've been told or taught, depending on where they served or who they served with, that they're less of a veteran. Or they don't see themselves as a veteran."

The center on North Fourth Street in Old City hosts workshops job searching, health and wellness and credit counseling, as well as offering help with parenting issues and military sexual abuse.

U.S. Air Force veteran Robin Wideman said she appreciates the chance to have the camaraderie of other women.

"Everywhere you go, you're outnumbered by men, wherever you go. So it makes us feel better that we can just be around women," Wideman said.

There are about 1.8 million women veterans of the U.S. military. The center expects to provide services to several hundred.

Veterans Multi-Service Center Expands Mission, Changes Name

The Department of Veterans Affairs recently awarded a grant of more than $1M to The Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service & Education Center, Inc., to serve Veteran households in Chester County.

PVMSEC has long-served Veteran families in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas under the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program. With this new grant, the organization will serve approximately 200 Veteran participant households in Chester County. As part of the expansion of their mission, the organization is changing its name to The Veterans Multi-Service Center or The VMC.


The VA awards SSVF grants to private non-profit organizations and consumer cooperatives that provide services to very low-income Veteran families living in -- or transitioning to -- permanent housing. The SSVF program supports VA’s efforts to prevent at-risk Veterans from becoming homeless and rapidly re-house those who have recently fallen into homelessness. Using this grant, the VMC will provide a range of services that promote housing stability and play a key role in connecting Chester County Veterans and their family members to VA services such as mental health care and other benefits, and can offer temporary financial assistance on behalf of Veterans for rent payments, utility payments, security deposits and moving costs.


The VMC currently operates two transitional housing units on the campus of the Coatesville VA Medical Center – “LZ II” houses 95 male Veterans while the Mary E. Walker House provides beds for 30 women Veterans. The VMC will provide additional services under the SSVF grant in collaboration with Catholic Social Services, using the former St. Cecilia’s school building on Lincoln Highway in downtown Coatesville.


Joining the VMC to oversee the additional operations in Chester County, and the further expansion of the VMC mission into Montgomery and Delaware counties, is recently retired Army Lt. Col. Maura A. “Mo” Gillen, a combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and a resident of Montgomery County. Mo’s last military assignment was as the head of the Army ROTC program at Drexel University.


 Read more:

Slain Rite Aid manager's family holds fundraiser in his name

When he joined the Navy at age 30, Jason Scott McClay had finally started living the life he’d imagined since he was a student at Haverford High School.


His six years serving aboard the USS Kitty Hawk not only reinforced the deep pride he had for his country, but afforded him opportunities to forge lasting friendships and visit places like Thailand, Hong Kong and Australia, according to his mother, Margie Reiley of Haverford.


“He was stationed in Japan, but he got to travel all over the world,” she said. “He made friends wherever he went.”


A foot injury he suffered aboard the supercarrier that required two major surgeries curtailed Jason’s plan for a military career, she said. He was honorably discharged after seven years.


Come Saturday, Dec. 7, a fundraiser in memory of Jason Scott McClay to primarily benefit disabled and homeless veterans and their families through the Veterans Multi-Service Center (VMC) in Coatesville will be held in The Ballroom at The Lamb Tavern, 865 W. Springfield Road in Springfield, from 7 to 11 p.m. Tickets for the Jason Scott McClay Hero Fund are $30 and include buffet dinner, dessert, soda bar, silent auction and live music by Del’s Groove. There will also be a cash cocktail bar.


“Jason would be very proud of this,” his mother said.


♦ ♦ ♦

The McClay-Reiley family

It will be three months on Dec. 19 since Jason, a Rite Aid pharmacy manager, was shot and killed during what authorities say was a robbery at the store at Ninth Street and Highland Avenue in Chester. Five Philadelphia residents are facing trial for first-degree murder and related offenses.


Sherry McClay, Jason’s stepmother, began coordinating the fundraiser a little more than a month ago.


“This is how I deal with my grief. This is what I do,” she said during a recent interview at the Daily Times building. Joined by husband Bruce McClay, the Haverford couple have been astounded by the generosity shown to their extended families, and are extremely thankful.


“There isn’t anyone in Delaware County who hasn’t heard of this,” Bruce McClay said, referring to the death of his 40-year-old son.


The event this weekend will mark the second fundraiser in Jason’s name. A benefit hosted by Maggie O’Neill’s, where Jason also worked as a bouncer, was held in October. All proceeds went to an education fund for his 3-year-old niece, Olivia Frank, whom he adored.


Jason had just moved into an apartment in Marple with his widowed sister, Jessica McClay Frank, and daughter Olivia in September. Jason was part of a close extended family that in addition to his parents, stepmother and sister includes brothers, Patrick and Daniel Reiley and Bruce and Ian McClay, and stepfather, Jim Reiley.


“We are the McClay-Reiley family,” said Sherry McClay, who’s been coupled with Bruce for 11 years, the last three in marriage. Jason was best man at the wedding on Nov. 6, 2010.


Bruce said his wife’s fundraising efforts opened his own eyes to all the good work being done by many organizations, which frequently go unnoticed until a situation becomes personal.


“Take something like the pink ribbons for breast cancer. There are a lot of organizations out there, but until something happens to you or your family, you don’t realize how important these things are,” he said.


Sherry McClay was on Facebook one morning and saw a post involving veterans when the idea to hold this fundraiser dawned on her. She mentioned it Bruce only in passing, at first. She then ran it by Lt. Col. Scott McClay (USMC Ret.) who thought it would be a wonderful tribute to his nephew.


But it wasn’t until she spoke to Margie, and again to Bruce, that the idea took hold, with their blessings.


“I think he would be proud of something like this,” Sherry McClay said. “He loved the service, and he loved being in the service.”


Perhaps even more so, he simply loved to help people.


“Jason was a giver,” Sherry McClay said.


Though only eight percent of Americans can claim veteran status, they make up 17 percent of our adult homeless population, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. In 2010, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) estimated that on any given night there were 76,000 homeless veterans sleeping on streets throughout the United States. As part of a national effort to end veteran homelessness by 2015, the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program was implemented by the VA.


Maura A. ”Mo” Gillen is deputy executive director for the VMC, formerly known as The Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service Center, Inc. She is also the direct program manager for SSVF program serving Delaware, Chester and Montgomery counties, through VMC’s partnership with Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.


“VA grants for SSVF programs allow non-profit organizations like the Veterans Multi-Service Center to provide critically important services in the effort to end homelessness among veterans in our area, but that’s not the whole answer. Success really depends on community involvement,” Gillen said. “It’s especially valuable during this holiday season for us to be able to provide simple things that really help a veteran family to move forward — things like money for gas, or that little extra for gifts. We see the funds raised in Jason’s memory in terms of the gift cards we can give directly to our client families, something we can’t do with the grant funds.”


Gillen said one of the core concepts of the SSVF program is “housing first,” which is based on the idea that providing safe, stable housing is the first step in reducing the stress that may keep a veteran and his or her family from moving forward.


“Our program is focused on that goal of rapidly re-housing a veteran family in crisis. Having the generous support of other families in the community allows us to take that effort a step further, to take the edge off and really get them on their way,” she said. “The McClay family’s effort to do this in Jason’s name is so consistent with our organizational culture — more than 75% of those of us working for VMC are veterans ourselves, and we really feel strongly about being able to serve our sisters and brothers who may be experiencing homelessness or other barriers to success. Through his family, our ‘brother’ Jason is really part of our team, and his service continues.”


♦ ♦ ♦

Future endeavors

Though they knew Thanksgiving Day would be hard, both Margie Reiley and Sherry McClay cooked for their immediate family members.


For Margie, that included her father, Robert T.Davis, an Army veteran who was a POW during World War II.


“Jason was the first-born grandchild and was the apple of his eye,” she said.


Like every other day, thoughts about Jason would be prominent.


Patrick Reiley, 27, said when Jason died, he lost a close friend as well as a brother. Looking back, he remembers being at his big brother’s last high school football game on Turkey Day.


“I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” he said.


When Patrick started playing sports, he wore No. 55, Jason’s lacrosse number, while his brother Dan wore No. 78, Jason’s football number.


“Every sport I played I was 55,” Patrick said.


Sherry McClay spent part of the day wrapping “Baskets of Cheer” for the silent auction.


Given that Jason was a huge Philadelphia sports buff, especially fond of hockey, many of the items are sports related.


“Anyone who is a Flyers fan, our event is the place to be,” she said.


There also will be gift cards for restaurants, markets and hair salons up for auction.


Bruce said not a day passes that he doesn’t think about his son. Both he and Sherry recalled holiday tables in years past when Jason would either show up late for a helping of his favorite dishes, or put in a request for some leftovers. They smiled at the thought.


“I’ll tell you what, no one ever expects last Thanksgiving to be your last Thanksgiving together,” Bruce McClay said.


Among her many helpers for the upcoming event, Sherry McClay singled out Bob Dodge. An artist, he owns Red Sparrow Gallery and designed the logo for the event, which will be the symbol for the Jason Scott McClay Hero Fund as it moves forward.


“This is something that is going to continue,” Sherry McClay said. “There are a lot of veterans who need help and that is not something that is going to end on Dec. 8.”


A portion of the proceeds from the fundraiser will also go to support food banks run by the Haverford and Chichester school districts and Cokesbury United Methodist Church in Marcus Hook. A donation will also be made to the Salvation Army in Jason’s name.



Philly nonprofit honors homeless vets


WHYY - Newsworks

By: Holly Otterbien


homeless vets 20131111 1107583730


More than 60,000 veterans are homeless on any given day, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

On Monday, a nonprofit saluted some of those homeless vets in Philadelphia. The Veterans Multi-service and Education Center offered live jazz, hoagies and bingo to former military personnel.

Ashley Cole, who was stationed at a Nevada Air Force base from 2008 to 2012, said she came to the event to socialize with like-minded vets.

"Even just that bickering between the services ... brings back memories," she said. "It brings back home."

After returning to Philly last year, she started a job at a government agency. But she struggled with a panic disorder, and soon became unemployed. Then she lost her home, too. With help from the Veterans Multi-service Center, she recently secured permanent housing. 

Cole urged civilians to not turn a blind eye to homeless veterans.

"You might see a veteran out on the street, and you might think, 'Oh, he's just begging for money,'" she said. "You don't know what they did for you. You don't know if they were directly involved with your safety."

By the end of 2015, the Veterans Multi-service Center hopes to end the homelessness that it estimated affects 400 Philly vets every day.

That might seem like an ambitious goal, but nonprofit president Bob Lord knows something about making a comeback. The Vietnam veteran was badly injured by two rocket launchers while in action. 

"They thought I was dead," he said. "Facial injuries ... abdominal injuries ... not breathing due to lung injuries."

Yet after more than a year in the hospital, Lord recovered and eventually became a successful insurance agent. He now helps other vets make a comeback by heading the nonprofit that connects them to housing, job training and other services.

"It's like teaching a person to fish rather than giving them fish," he said. "Can we get them all to overcome the obstacles of life? Not really. But if we get one, that's a success story."

Anonymous - Philadelphia, PA

"I am the wife of a Viet Nam Veteran. My husband started going to PVMSEC 10 years ago for help. No mere words could ever express how much his life and in turn our family life has changed for the better in those years. I am and always will be grateful for the wonderful care he has received at the Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service Center & Education Center."

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