Incarcerated veterans giving back to community

Published 7:26 pm Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Keith Wiglusz, president; Jean Blackburn and Trisha Mulder of Southampton Social Services. — Submitted

By Jean Blackburn

The Unified Incarcerated Veterans Organization VVA Chapter 1120, located at Deerfield Correctional Center, has, once again, brightened the lives of the people within their local community through VVA 1120’s community outreach initiative.

This year’s Veterans Day Banquet, held on Nov. 8, 2018, was titled “The Price of Redemption: Veterans in Action Behind Bars.” During the banquet, they presented the Southampton Social Services representatives, Jean Blackburn and Trisha Mulder, with 19 boxes of crocheted hats, scarves and gloves totaling 878 items. Blackburn was overwhelmed with emotions as she received the large quantity of materials provided by the veterans and expressed how much of a difference the Unified Incarcerated Veterans Organization will make in the lives of those who are less fortunate/homeless with such beautiful items.

The outreach program was started because the veterans wanted to do something for their local community and counselor Elizabeth A. Carr had a flyer from Social Services about the hat and scarf project being initiated by that department. The “gifts of warmth” would be distributed during the winter months to those in need. The veterans immediately looked into the process of how to get it done.

A proposal was submitted to the warden, Tammy B. Williams, and her executive team for approval by the veterans in January. It met full approval in March 2018 and the veterans eagerly began their task. They crocheted diligently and even had classes set up within the pod to teach other veterans, who wanted to participate but had no knowledge of how to crochet. Many of them, after learning how, found it to be very therapeutic and comforting in nature. The veterans said that they were/are extremely happy to be able to do something that will help those in need or less fortunate.

Even though they may have made some bad decisions/choices in life, it does not mean that they can’t begin to rectify and atone for their actions within the community by beginning to help those who are in need of service. This brings about a redemptive spirit within oneself and gives them a sense of purpose in life.

There were times when they were out of yarn and they constantly asked Carr to please contact the Social Services to get them some yarn because they were anxiously awaiting a shipment to come in so they could continue their work.

“We were only asking for a total of 500 items for the citizens of the community and the veterans wanted to surprise us by attempting to double the targeted amount,” said Blackburn.

Furthermore, they were very grateful to Southampton Social Services for allowing them to be in partnership to bring great joy to the lives of all the recipients who will benefit from their labor of love, charity and service. They were also appreciative of the huge donations of yarn that the people within the community contributed to help them in their efforts.

The “gifts of warmth” project is not the only outreach program that the Veterans have. They also hosted a Back-2-School drive for Capron Elementary from June 2018 to October 2018 which they presented 9 boxes of school supplies to the principal, Dr. Allison B. Francis. Their newly acquired outreach program is with the Charles R. Younts American Legion Post 73. Through this project they will be donating crocheted items to The Navy Marine Relief Society and the Hampton VA Medical Center.

We are all looking forward to partnering together again.