by Noreen Leary & Melissa Davis, Veterans Guest House
What is the Veterans Guest House?
The Veterans Guest House is a nonprofit organization which provides United States military service veterans and their families temporary overnight accommodations when receiving treatment at a medical facility in the Reno-Sparks area.
The people we serve fall into three categories:
- Veterans receiving outpatient care
- Families supporting hospitalized veterans
- Veterans’ immediate family members who are receiving medical treatment as an inpatient or outpatient.
Our guests are asked to donate $25/night, but no one is turned away for inability to pay. Less than 25% of guestsgive.
To our knowledge, we are the only facility of our kind in the community that is totally privately funded and that provides the broad support to our veteran families. That says so much about the generosity of our community.
How did the Veterans Guest House get started?
We were founded in 1991 by veterans regularly volunteering at the VA Medical Center. Many mornings they noticed fogged up car windows in the parking lot, which could only mean one thing; someone had slept in that car. One morning they had the opportunity to speak with a woman exiting one of those cars. She and her two children were in Reno from Bishop, California (about 200 miles south of Reno). Her husband had been in an accident weeks prior and was taken to the VA Medical Center’s Intensive Care Unit. She and the children needed to be close to him, but the family had no means to get a hotel or other accommodations. They resorted to sleeping in the car. On that day, the men vowed “Never Again On Our Watch,” and the Veterans Guest House was born.
What does the Veterans Guest House offer to their clients and/or to the community?
Laura’s husband, Paul, is a disabled Vietnam War Veteran who has been in and out of the hospital for the past 15 years. They live in Yerington, Nevada (75 miles southeast of Reno). For the first three years of Paul’s illness, Laura stayed in an area hotel so she could be close to him. Over those three years, they exhausted every bit of their savings, racked up massive credit card debt and had to declare bankruptcy. When they found the Guest House twelve years ago, they were broke, unsure how they were going to keep her close to support him and desperate for help. Over the past twelve years, we have provided this family with 1,242 nights of lodging allowing them to be together during times of medical need.
The Veterans Guest House ensures that veterans and their family members are not sleeping in hospital room chairs or cars, going days on end without a shower, and eating from a vending machine. We ensure that families are not exhausting their savings, racking up credit card debt and having to declare bankruptcy. We ensure those who served our country are not forgoing medical care because of the high cost of lodging.
What has Veterans Guest House accomplished and what are you most proud of?
We are most proud of being able to provide veterans and their family members a safe, supportive, comforting place to lay their head at night. Over the past two and a half decades, we have provided nearly 75,000 nights of lodging, 65,000 of those since 2004.
Over the years, we have tried to meet the need but it seemed to grow faster than we could build capacity. In July 2018, thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we opened a 12,000 square foot expansion. This expansion transformed our home from 17-beds to 33-beds with the ability to provide 12,045 guest nights a year. The expanded Guest House has five single rooms to accommodate veterans who are experiencing extensive post-traumatic stress disorder or medical issues requiring private quarters. All other rooms are semi-private with a Jack and Jill bathroom. Increased room sizes in the expanded facility allow families more space to stay together and guests in wheelchairs improved mobility. In addition to the bedrooms, the dining room and kitchen areas are designed to better meet the needs of our guests. This expansion is meeting the current need and should for years to come.
This expansion coupled with some long-term planning will allow our veterans to have this support for many years to come—until the day comes that it is no longer needed.
What is great about running a non-profit in Nevada?
When you are passionate about what you do it makes everything easier, profit or non-profit. In a non-profit, you are helping people in one way or the other and in our case, the Guest House is helping US military veterans and their loved ones. Northern Nevada loves its veterans so we could not ask for a better cause in this environment. Day in and day out, the generosity of the community pours forth. Whether that is people volunteering to make beds, sell beer at the Rib Cook Off or bring dinners, attending a fashion show, buying a raffle ticket or sending in a financial gift, the next phone call or email will be another idea that someone has to help our veterans. We accept it all with open arms. After all, it only helps our veterans who have helped us so much. We love Nevada.
What would you say are some of the most difficultthings you face as a non-profit organization?
No matter how much support that received, there is always a chance it could go away. Maybe not today or tomorrow but one of these days, things might be different. It is so important to continue to connect with your supporters and let them know what you are doing and how they can help, today, tomorrow and down the road. It is easy to overlook that outreach. It becomes secondary to the mission. We are making an extra push to make sure we keep current and potential supporters informed.
Are there any Nevada organizations or individuals that you would like to give a “shout out” to?
Narrowly speaking, we want to thank all of the various veterans organizations for all that they do to help our veterans. We want to thank our supporters for all that they do so that we can help our veterans at the Guest House-a small part of the larger picture. More widely, a community is only as great as the organizations that are taking care of those in need. In that regard, the entire northern Nevada community is so generous to so many non-profit groups who are doing their best to help their clientele. So here’s a “shout out” to all who do their part to make our community better.
How can an individual or business assist you in your efforts?
Individuals or business can assist with several areas of need.
- We are always in need of volunteers. Just like your house, our house has chores on top of chores on top of chores. Should someone have an interest in taking a break from their chores, they are always welcome to come help with ours! We always need help with laundry, bed making, yard work, and spring cleaning. We also have three events a year, which are all made successful because of the time and talent of dedicated volunteers. Our annual golf tournament is taking place on June 14, 2019 and we need help with various things including helping to organize and check in golfers, sell raffle tickets and making sure our golfers have snacks/drinks while out on the course.
- Monetary donations are also always greatly appreciated. Veterans Guest House is 100% privately funded, and the generosity of this community is what keeps us operating. Donations can be made here.
- The third way people can assist is by helping out with items from our wishlist. Just like your house, our house goes through a lot of household goods…trash bags, coffee, toilet paper. You name it, we probably use it. Our current wishlist is always available here. Many times, groups of friends, book clubs, churches, colleagues get together and do a wishlist drive to benefit the Veterans Guest House. This is a fun, easy way for your group to give back!
- The best way is the creativity of people. There are lots of ideas that have not been brought to fruition yet, maybe not even thought of. If an individual or business wants to support the Veterans Guest House in a “different” way, we are certainly open to suggestions. Sponsorships and partnerships go a long way in the non-profit world.