Nearing the end of his interview, CJ Beck was asked for an additional comment, when he laughed and responded: “If you get me talking I’ll talk for way too long, I’ll keep you ‘til 5:30!” CJ works at New England Center and Home for Veterans. His official title is “Philanthropic Officer for Community Engagement,” and although that title is seemingly complex, CJ’s role is clear; he connects volunteers with veterans at the center, and he undoubtedly loves the work that he does. CJ was interviewed to spotlight the organization he has called home for the past five years. His passion and detail spoke tremendously to the role his organization plays not only in his own life, but also in the lives of the volunteers it engages, and the veterans it serves.
The New England Center and Home for Veterans, or NECHV for short, has had a longstanding relationship with Boston Cares, the two organizations have been community partners for over fifteen years. Established in 1989, the center has provided Boston’s veterans not only a safe haven from the streets but also a place which “empowers residents with the tools they need to get back on track, find employment that’s meaningful to them, and hopefully get them housed quickly as well.” Unlike other shelters, NECHV focuses on providing services for veterans who are at-risk of homelessness; “because we’re working with a small subset of the population, what we get to do is have an opportunity for our residents to have their own beds, and their own locker for the duration of their stay. We do try transition veterans out of the center within 3-6 months; it’s called a “Rapid Rehousing Program,” so we really do try to find people housing as soon as possible. However we do understand everyone measures for success differently.” The center isn’t only a place to stay the night; best described as a one-stop shop for veterans, NECHV also offers veterans a training school for those seeking employment, a Clinical Case Management Team which matches individual Case Managers with residents, addiction services, and much more.
NECHV has recently come out of a three-year long renovation project, which has enabled the center to provide all of these services in an easily accessible and smooth manner. CJ attributes the center’s success to the efficiency of their program and the passionate people supporting it. “By and large our mission is being completed – 306 transitional beds have been reduced by 40% to 178 beds. It’s interesting working in a field where when your numbers are going down it means your mission is being completed, or the job is being done well. We constructed 37 new efficiency units, so that means permeant affordable housing is currently occupied at 100%.”
CJ’s role as a volunteer coordinator has enabled him to engage people in service in a myriad of ways. “I focus on really coordinating with the community and people inside; seeing what would be really beneficial for us and [also] meaningful for community supporters” Past the essentials of housing, training and employment, NECHV offers everything from board game days, to singing groups, to special visits from guests like the Boston Red Sox. “The more people that we can get in here that just want to help, in whatever way we’re needing it, and also just coming in with a positive effect, that lifting of spirits, it’s extremely important for folks who are facing challenges every day.”
Pop into the dining hall any Wednesday, Thursday or Friday and you will find Boston Cares volunteers doing just that. Volunteers from Boston Cares mainly engage in meal service; prepping and cooking food, serving the meals, and cleaning afterwards. CJ says simply the positive spirit which volunteers bring into the NECHV is a “huge contribution to the organization.” As well as the consistency of our volunteers; “they are the same people, same faces. It’s nice for our staff, and our residents, to see some of the familiar faces because I think there’s a certain level of comfortability and familiarity. When [volunteers] come in, they know each other, they may know people by first name, and we figure that’s an awesome opportunity for our residents as well as volunteers. It’s really wonderful to have that community backing, Boston Cares makes it easier for the staff to deliver the services, and it makes it easier for the residents.”
CJ’s voice brightened as he spoke of volunteers, but he is more than humble about the role he plays in the process. “It’s interesting for me to recognize I’m just a cog in the wheel, I’m just helping to make that happen, I’m setting the stage for the interaction.” He says the most meaningful part of his work is: “to see the interactions between residents and volunteers. These are people who are giving their time and effort; just to see that someone can brighten someone’s day by simply telling them they have a nice coat, is really a wonderful thing.” CJ has the unique pleasure of seeing these simple, yet impactful human interactions every day.
Visit the NECHV website and you will see outstanding statistics; 250 Veterans reside at NECHV each night. Each year, NECHV serves over 100,000 resident meals and 450 Veterans complete training programs. But in addition to the impressive numbers quantified by data, are the intricate and immense connections built between veterans and volunteers. Anyone who has volunteered their time can attest to the powerful bonds built by service. The work being done at NECHV is not only crucial at this time, but essential for all those involved. As volunteers at the center, people are aiding veterans in their path to successful and independent living, and most importantly serving those who have served and sacrificed for their country.
You can sign up to volunteer at The New England Center and Home for Veterans here.
And visit their website here: http://nechv.org/