By Alex Cohen
The final day of The Giving Tour has come and after getting a great night sleep in a nice hotel, we are up, rested and ready for our last trip on the bus. At breakfast, we talked about how time seemed to have sped by and how sad we will be to see this incredible week come to an end.
After breakfast, we got back on the bus and headed over to HELP USA’s homeless shelter for veterans in Las Vegas, where we sponsored breakfast for the group and served it to the veterans.
When we arrived, we were met by Steve Silverman, Regional Director of HELP USA-Las Vegas and an Army veteran of the Vietnam War. He was so soft spoken and gentle, I could immediately tell that he was the best person to deal with the Veterans. He was calm and approachable but funny at the same time. He told us how excited the Vets are to be getting breakfast on a weekend, because HELP USA only provides meals on weekdays, so this was a big treat for them. First, we toured the facility and were able to see one of the empty rooms. It was very clean and spacious and a little bigger than a NYC studio apartment, but it had everything they needed. The facility included a laundry room, a recreational room complete with a large television, gym equipment, ping-pong table and pool table. There was also a computer center that allowed Vets to create and update their resumes and look for employment. In addition to housing, meals and amenities, HELP USA Las Vegas also provides employment training, support services, transitional housing and life skills programs to help veterans reintegrate into civilian life.
Around 9:00 AM we went into the lounge area and started serving breakfast. Everyone quickly and quietly lined up and we poured coffee, served bagels of all kinds and pastries. They were very polite and very happy to have such a treat and thanked us as they went by. Some took their food (and a little extra for the next day) back to their rooms; others chose to eat in the lounge with the group. We took turns serving and then sitting and chatting with them.
At first, everyone was a little shy and not sure who we were or why we were there. But, after a little while they warmed up to us and started to share their stories. They spoke about how hard it was to acclimate to civilian life after separation from the military. Some left the military because of injury but most of the stories resulted in the same things: depression, anxiety, nightmares, trouble with the law, or drug and alcohol abuse. As I looked into some of their eyes, I saw two things, one was a deep sadness but, when they spoke about the program, I saw hope. Someone was looking out for them, someone cared about what happens to them. We sat and listened for quite a while and we showed them the respect that they deserve, and thanked them for their service.
That sentence is thrown around a lot when someone sees a Vet, but do we really know what we are thanking him or her for? Next time you see a veteran, sit with him or her, listen to their story, hear what they have been through – then and only then will you understand what they have given for this country, what they have given for us, for you.
We took pictures with the group before we left, and those who would not smile when we first came in or even look at us, were now smiling, laughing and joking. We bid farewell with handshakes, blessings, and hugs and kisses – we were sad to leave, partly because it was our last random act of kindness on the tour, but also because we really enjoyed this morning immensely.
We got back on the bus for the last time and headed back to the hotel to get ready for our last celebratory dinner as a team. We smiled the entire way from the relief that we had completed our mission, and also knowing that it had changed us forever.
Over the next week I will be preparing a blog reflecting back on the trip and how it has changed and inspired me. I would also like to thank my team for having faith in me and going with me on this journey, even though some were not sure we could pull this off – thank you for your blind faith and I hope to read your reflections soon as well.
For now, I will leave you with this: America is a huge and beautiful country and for those of you who have not seen it, get out there and experience it. This country is full of some of the kindest people, the best food and the most amazing views (that go on forever). Most importantly, remember that people all over the country need your support – don’t forget the people in the middle… continue to follow us and we will teach you how to help.
GOD BLESS AMERICA!