Our Latest Issue of Inspire Back to School 2024

Every kid deserves a great future. You can help – Support our Back to School program

From left to right:
Tineeta, Roberta, Anastasia, Tatiana, Yaz’minia, and Elliot

Ways to Support our Back to School campaign

  • Make a tax-deductible contribution
  • Donate gift cards for school uniforms, supplies and other specific classroom needs
  • Volunteer to offer supportive services to our children

A Letter from Jennifer

Dear Friend:

For forty years, Volunteers of America Mid-States’ family emergency shelter, Unity House, has provided individualized care for families in Louisville facing homelessness. As our staff works tirelessly to return these families to self-sufficiency, our community partners and volunteers make a tremendous impact on the children we serve at the shelter.

Our volunteers spend time as study buddies, throw birthday parties, host arts and crafts events, and so much more to make a positive impact on the lives of children in our programs, including Freedom House, Determined Health, and Restorative Justice.

As we prepare these children to return to school, school supplies, clothing, healthy snacks, and more are needed to ensure they can focus on receiving a quality education without worrying about these daily necessities. Your support of VOA goes a long way toward making sure that these basic needs are met.

Thank you so much for being an advocate of VOA’s mission and helping us continue this life-changing work.

With gratitude,

Jennifer Hancock, President and CEO

I Didn’t Have to Raise My Hand

28-year-old Griffin Furlong is a civil engineer. He spends his days managing large-scale residential projects in Tampa, Florida. He has created a successful life in a field of work that he truly loves, despite his circumstances as a child living in Louisville.

In 2007, Griffin and his family experienced homelessness. He was six years old when his mother passed away from cancer.

“That took a big toll on us,” Griffin said. “It took a big toll on my dad and his mental health.”

His father suffered from depression after the loss of his wife. He lost his job and began to fall behind on bills. By eight, Griffin and his family were homeless.

They eventually found VOA’s Unity House. The program provided a safe and welcoming place for them to stay as well as individualized support for the entire family.

“It’s really hard when you’re a homeless kid and you’re in a constant state of needing help. And sometimes it gets really old, continuing to raise your hand and ask for help. I just feel like with VOA, I never had to raise my hand,” Griffin said.

VOA supported Griffin’s dad and made sure he and his brother didn’t fall behind in school.

After leaving Unity House, Griffin and his family moved to Florida. Griffin continued to excel in his educational journey and was valedictorian of his high school class. He went on to earn an engineering degree from Florida State University.

Griffin and his brother are two inspiring examples of adults who lived at Unity House and went on to create beautiful, successful lives. This year, the program celebrates 40 years of supporting unhoused families.

Taking the Reins Toward a Hopeful Life

51-year-old Army veteran Christian Maverick, never knew his father, and his mother struggled with substance-use disorder. From a young age, he experienced neglect and abuse until he was taken from his mother and spent the rest of his young adult life in foster homes and psychiatric hospitals.

At 18, he left state custody and joined the military to escape his circumstances. But while in training, Christian suffered a head injury and was medically discharged.

“The only family (Army) I ever knew cared for me and now I’m out. I didn’t know what to do,” he said.

Feeling lost and without hope, Christian turned to substances to cope with the physical and emotional pain. He struggled financially and turned to criminal activity to earn money and maintain his drug use.

It wasn’t until 2016, that Christian’s life changed. He met his wife, Amy, and they had a daughter, Samara.

He decided to create a new life and be a good example for his daughter. But his head injury continued to affect his ability to work and live. Christian and his family were about to be evicted from their apartment when he found VOA.

VOA went to work for Christian, helping him with rent, locating stable housing and connecting him with a unique program to help him process traumas from his past.

“VOA came to me and was like, ‘hey, we’ve got this equine therapy program that we think you should be a part of,’ ” he said.

Christian had a fear of horses, but he decided to give it a try. He started attending therapy sessions at Equid Branches Wellness Services in Cox’s Creek, Kentucky, and formed a bond with a horse named Joe.

“I felt a connection to him. He just put me at ease,” Christian said. “He knew what I was feeling.”

Joe is 15 years old and was trained to work with veterans like Christian. He suffered an injury and due to arthritis cannot be mounted. But his calm nature and keen sense of emotions make him the perfect horse for equine therapy.

Thanks to therapy with Joe, today, Christian has a new outlook on life and a new job at Mosby’s Towing and Transport LLC. He has Saturdays off so he can spend time with his daughter and continue to go to equine therapy.

“This program and VOA saved me.”

“VOA came to me and was like, ‘hey, we’ve got this equine therapy program that we think you should be a part of.”

Christian, Veteran served by VOA

Building a Foundation for a Hopeful Future

In the summer of 2022, Gemmese came to VOA’s recovery program for pregnant and parenting women, Freedom House. She was struggling with substance-use disorder and lost custody of her newborn daughter, Ta’Rei. Gemmese was determined to change her life and reunite with her daughter, but she needed support.

Freedom House’s team of licensed clinical therapists helped Gemmese understand the root cause of her substance-use disorder and gave her the tools she needed to take back her life and find recovery.

“Freedom House helped me love myself,” Gemmese said. “It helped me build up the person that I wanted to be and acknowledge where I went wrong.”

In October 2022, Gemmese graduated from Freedom House and regained custody of her daughter. To hold herself accountable and maintain her sobriety, she continued with another Louisville-based program that helps parents struggling with substance use disorder create hopeful lives for their families while in recovery.

In Seven Counties Services’ Family Recovery Court Program, Gemmese worked with Family Court Judge Derwin L. Webb and a team of social workers to set goals and achieve milestones for a stable, healthy life for herself and Ta’Rei. The combination of Freedom House and Family Recovery Court helped Gemmese stay focused on her recovery.

“Freedom House and Family Recovery Court really helps you want to do better,” Gemmese said. “You want to strive for more instead of being stuck in a cycle of relapses.”

Gemmese graduated from Family Recovery Court in July 2023. Today, she has stable housing and celebrates two years of sobriety.

“I just want to stay on the right path and keep focused on what I’m striving for – keeping my daughter and myself happy and healthy,” Gemmese said.

VOA Voices

Cindy Kamer

Louisville’s Family Recovery Court, powered by Seven Counties Services
Clinical Manager/VOA Partner

“Freedom House has been a key partner for Family Recovery Court (FRC). For client outcomes, there must be seamless communication between the providers tasked with providing substance use treatment and the FRC team that strives to support those same goals. Having a trusted program like Freedom House and VOA overall allows the FRC team to feel comfortable and confident in referring clients, as we have seen the successes and have been fortunate enough to share in some of those successes. It is powerful for clients to have two groups fighting for the shared goal of safe, healthy, and lasting reunification.”

Jay Jomkymsingh

VOA Community Home Manager

Celebrating 18 years with VOA in 2024

“I love what I do. Seeing our VOA participants out and about in their community is so rewarding for me. They make friends, meet neighbors and serve as active members of their community in Clark and Floyd Counties in Indiana.” Jay is a long-time and committed VOA employee who supports adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the VOA Community program. He works in their homes to assist them with getting out and interacting socially with others. Some of the activities that they do include fishing, shopping, bowling and more. “Whatever they want to do we are here to support and help them. We go to Dollar Tree a lot.”

Senator Whitney Westerfield

Kentucky State Senator, District 3

Chair, Senate Judiciary Committee

Senator Whitney Westerfield has represented Kentucky’s 3rd Senate District since 2013. As Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he oversees many crucial pieces of legislation that pass through the General Assembly each year. Senator Westerfield sponsors some of the most thoughtful and bold bills each legislative session, including 2022’s Senate Bill 90 pilot program. Senator Westerfield has been a valued partner to VOA over the years, and although he will be retiring from the Senate at the end of 2024, we know he will continue to make an impact on his home of Christian County and the Commonwealth.

News Briefs

Manchester Kentucky Freedom House Groundbreaking Event

In April, VOA joined local leaders and community partners to break ground on the expansion of Freedom House in Burning Springs, KY. This Freedom House location, has been at capacity since opening in 2020. Funded by the Kentucky General Assembly and other philanthropic partners, the expansion will double the capacity of this program, allowing VOA to serve even more women and their children in Southeast Kentucky.

Tennessee Fundraising Events

VOA held two major fundraising dinners in Tennessee, benefiting our programs across the state. In April, we held our first-ever Salute to Veterans dinner in Knoxville headlined by Captain (retired) William A. Robinson, US Air Force, the longest-held enlisted POW in American history. In June, VOA held its 15th annual Tennessee Weekend of Champions Dinner and Golf Tournament in Nashville with keynote speaker, four-time Super Bowl champion, and former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw. The weekend was our most successful to date bringing in a record amount of support for our programs.

VOA Partners with Louisville Metro for Community Care Campus

Last December, Louisville Metro Government selected VOA to manage the new Community Care Campus, which is expected to help address some of the city’s housing needs. VOA and Miranda Construction recently completed the master plan and work is set to begin this summer. Among the facilities that will be housed on the campus will be a new family emergency shelter modeled after VOA’s Unity House and 80 units of affordable housing. VOA also plans to relocate its headquarters to the Community Care Campus.

Ways to Support our Back to School campaign

  • Make a tax-deductible contribution
  • Donate gift cards for school uniforms, supplies and other specific classroom needs
  • Volunteer to offer supportive services to our children

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