We’ve all heard the horror stories. U.S. Armed Forces veterans unable to receive the physical, mental and emotional care they need.
Some strides have been taken recently to improve conditions in hospitals run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. But there are still far too many vets in need of help.
These are men and women who served their country – OUR country – so faithfully. Some for many years.
But now back home, many of them are suffering from the effects of their military service. Too many are out of work. Many are poor. Some are homeless. It shouldn’t be this way.
Many Vets Don’t Even Own a Bike
There’s only one thing that keeps me from getting more worked up about this than I am. And that’s when I hear stories about what people such as Florida resident Diann Dimitri are doing.
Nearly 10 years ago, Diann and some of her fellow Gainesville Cycling Club members attended a breakfast. The meal was organized for the purpose of bringing attention to the plight of homeless vets in the area.
She and her co-workers were voluntarily doing minor bike repairs for the vets at the event. There she discovered that some of the vets did not even own a bike.
So, not only could they not afford a car, they couldn’t even afford a bike to get around and take care of some of their basic needs.
HONOR Center Houses Homeless Vets
She learned that some of those homeless vets were living in a facility run by Veterans Affairs. It’s called The HONOR Center.
“HONOR” stands for Hope, Opportunities, Networking, Outreach and Recovery. Among its services are Permanent Supported Housing and Veterans Justice Outreach.
The 24-hour, homelike facility houses approximately 45 vets at any given time. Many of the vets living there have serious issues, ranging from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to addiction problems. The facility offers private and semi-private rooms. It has the ability to serve up to six female veterans.
The residents are also offered cooking classes, recreational therapy, dental services, library/media center and horticulture therapy.
Bikes 4 Vets Puts the Pedal to the Metal
While speaking with an HONOR Center official, a light bulb went on over Diann’s head. Why not start an organization that would provide free bikes to these deserving vets who were down on their luck?
So that’s what she did.
The organization is called Bikes 4 Vets. As of this year, Bikes 4 Vets in Gainesville has donated more than 500 bikes to veterans in need.
They’ve also received assistance from local companies. A $5,000 grant from Home Depot allowed them to build a bike shed at The HONOR Center and supply it with tools.
Program Expanding to Other Cities
And here’s the best part. Bikes 4 Vets is not only thriving in Gainesville. Other Florida cities including St. Petersburg and Lake City have picked up on the idea. They’ve formed their own chapters.
Diann hopes the idea continues to expand. “I’ve kept saying, this program should be everywhere there are vets,” she explained. “I see this expanding, but I want it to be done right.”
Until the program expands further, she’s basking in the joy that comes from helping local veterans.
“I’ve had folks who tell me they haven’t biked since they were kids,” she said. “Now, whole groups of them are downtown on Friday nights… They’ll travel together and they’ll have their lights on.”
Vets Are Already Paying It Forward
Many veterans – even those who have encountered life struggles following their service – have hearts of gold.
They’ve been giving back their whole lives. And that attitude hasn’t stopped just because some of them have personal problems now.
Diann said one of the veterans who received a bike from Bikes 4 Vets has been working with her to fix bikes for other vets for five years now.
Another vet with a head injury was unable to operate a normal bike. So, Bikes 4 Vets presented him with a special electric assist trike. One of the ways he uses it is to ride to his local library once a week to do volunteer work.
We can never go wrong by helping out our veterans. It’s the least we can do after all they’ve done for us.
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