Five Hours, 15 Miles, and One Pair of Shoes: How a Retired Veteran Made His Journey for Help in Madison

Story & photos by Cooper Adams, American Red Cross

In a podiatrist’s chair at a repurposed community center nurse’s office, West Jones could finally rest his feet.

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West Jones, left, poses with Jodi Grosinske, an organizer of Stand Down Madison.

Two days ago, Jones, a retired Marine, had heard about Stand Down Madison, a resources event for veterans. He knew he could use the help. But, without a car, ride or bus pass, Jones made his way more than 15 miles to the event the only way he could: he walked.

“Everyone has their own ways of doing things,” Jones said. “And walking here was my way.”

After the five-hour walk – along city streets from his home in Stoughton to the event in Madison – Jones was one of dozens of veterans greeted by organizations at Stand Down Madison. Organizer Jodi Grosinske guided Jones to the podiatrist’s chair for a check-up and pedicure, and introduced him to a slew of other agencies on hand to help, including the American Red Cross and volunteer Chuck Patzer.


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Jones’s transportation troubles spotlight the range of challenges expressed by veterans at Stand Down Madison, which centers on veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness. After receiving first-hand compassion to go along with hygiene items, a sewing kit and that pedicure, Jones also got a ride back to his home. It was part of a longer journey.

From Marines to Madison

In his younger years, Jones wanted to serve his country any way he could. He was intrigued by the slogan “The Marine Corps Builds Men” and decided to enlist.

In boot camp in San Diego, Jones said he kept everyone’s morale high with his humor and positive attitude. West described his time as a good experience overall. He’d gotten to meet all kinds of people during his service. Once at a shooting range, Jones said he fired 10 rounds and hit 10 bullseyes, which garnered respect from his platoon. But, after only eight months, he was discharged.

“There was something wrong with my brain,” Jones clarified. “It should’ve been looked at before I was sent to boot camp.”

After his discharge, Jones spent the next 30 years with his brother, an Air Force veteran. They took care of each other (West said his brother was injured while serving). West also found comfort in an exploration of his faith.

Now, Jones lives alone in Stoughton. When he’d learned about Stand Down Madison, he knew it was a chance to take advantage of resources he needed, prompting his 15-mile hike. During this morning-long event in October, veterans like Jones received everything from legal representation to hygiene items, from career opportunities to hot meals. Jones was very grateful for everything available, and filled his cart with deodorant, printed-out Bible verses, and a sewing kit.

From One Veteran to Another

Chuck Patzer

Chuck Patzer, volunteer with the American Red Cross and a Vietnam War veteran, at an October 2019 veteran resource event in Madison.

While visiting the Red Cross booth, Jones met fellow veteran and volunteer, Chuck Patzer.

Since birth, Patzer’s life had been intertwined with the military. While his mother visited his father stationed in California during World War II, he was born. As a young man, Patzer was drafted for the Vietnam War and served as a signal translator all over the world, including Virginia, Germany, and Vietnam. Fifty years later, Patzer is still doing his part to help those who have served, like West Jones.

Patzer has been a volunteer for the American Red Cross for 10 years. Inspired by the need after Hurricane Katrina, Patzer, a retired letter carrier, came to a Red Cross office with a donation of blankets. There, Patzer was asked if he’d like to volunteer. In his decade of volunteer service since, Patzer has primarily helped as a Disaster Action Team (DAT) member and as a volunteer with the Service to Armed Forces team. As a DAT lead, Patzer travels to sites of disasters like fires or floods, offering assistance.

“We provide things like food and offer help to people who need it,” Patzer explained. “It’s an emotional time, but the people we help are always thankful, even if they just needed a hug”.

With veterans, Patzer said the most important thing he provides is comfort. Veterans who suffer from dementia may feel lost, so Patzer said he brings along animatronic animals to spark their memories of childhood pets. The sweet sounds these faux felines and canines make can help to ease stress for veterans he meets. It’s also an entry point, to talk, to listen, and to share. From there, Patzer said he can provide other hygiene basics on offer from the Red Cross and let them know their sacrifice and service are deeply appreciated.

You can meet and help veterans, service members, and their families. Join our Service to the Armed Forces volunteers. Take that first step by clicking here.

In retirement, SAF volunteer Holsinger is proud to be ‘somebody who cares’ for veterans and service members

By Kelsey ShaSha McCarthy, American Red Cross

Volunteers may not always have a background in the area where they dedicate their time and talent. But they’ve all got the passion.

Rich Holsinger is a retired professional who has spent his career honing his managerial skills in regional management positions at a national retail giant and a popular coffee roaster. After his retirement, Rich began working with the American Red Cross two years ago as a lead volunteer at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison with the American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) Department.

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Rich Holsinger preps SAF materials for his activities with veterans and service members in the Madison area.

On the surface, Rich’s volunteer work with SAF is quite a bit different than his professional background. SAF at the Red Cross proudly serves veterans, service members and their families. All the same, since taking up his volunteer leadership role, Rich has made a remarkable impact on the lives of numerous veterans and their families and caregivers.

“The volunteers don’t do a lot of talking, but we do a lot of listening. It’s interesting to hear their stories and just show them that there’s somebody who cares,” Rich said in regards to why he enjoys serving and working with his team.

Click here for a list of veterans and active duty resources from the American Red Cross, as well as to find out ways you can help.

Rich has created exciting weekly programming for patients including activities such as dinners with game nights, BINGO with prizes, tailgate parties, nightly performances from local music groups and sing-a-longs.

“With the different programs we’re running now, whether you’re working with a veteran or you’re working with a caregiver of a veteran, to see them relax, to see them talk about something else rather than medical … I usually get more out of it than I put into it. I find it very rewarding,” Rich said.

In two weeks, Rich is looking forward to hosting the Madison V.A.’s first picnic.

“We’re working with the V.A. to ensure that we have the right kind of food for them… the Red Cross will supply all of the food and the hospital will prepare it,” he said.

He also spoke about how some hotels in the area including Stay Bridge Suites Middleton/Madison-West have provided spaces for veterans during their time at the Madison V.A. as well as resources for events for veterans and their caregivers.

While Rich is truly enjoying his role and continuing to help the Red Cross team at the Madison V.A. grow, he didn’t have plans to volunteer for the Red Cross before his retirement and explained more about why he chose to apply as a volunteer for the Red Cross and got his start as the new lead volunteer at the Madison V.A. Medical Center.

Rich had been retired for about five months when he realized that he didn’t want to just retire and focus on himself and play golf all day, one of his favorite pastimes. With the extra time on his hands, he wanted to make a difference in his community where he could and help people in need.

He began researching volunteer organizations and found a volunteer position that was seeking “somebody to take charge and start building some programs for the veterans at the hospital in the area.”

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SAF volunteers set up a refreshments table at a recent service member send-off event in Franklin.

He knew that his vast experience of managing people in project and program development would be a great fit. He saw it as an exciting opportunity to do what he enjoyed and was familiar with and put his passion and talent to the test, starting with new entertainment and program development for veterans and their families and caregivers.

Rich said that two people who have been monumentally helpful and amazing to work with on projects are Richard Seymour, SAF Program Director, and Michelle Matuszak, SAF Manager. Rich said Matuszak and Seymour have been instrumental in helping Rich on his volunteer journey, and he’s thankful that they gave him the freedom to “do his own thing.” The praise goes both ways.

“We had issues with getting leadership in the Madison V.A.,” Seymour said. “Within a year Rich has started and established programs, built a volunteer team and … controls the budget we have established for the Madison V.A. I wish I could clone him 10 times!”

Find out how you can become a Service to the Armed Forces volunteer here.

A Hand Up for Veterans at Milwaukee Stand Down Rally

By Justin Kern – American Red Cross

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Walter Donaldson joined 172 veterans Saturday at the Milwaukee Veterans Stand Down.

With icy rain and whipping winds outside of the Richards Street Armory in Milwaukee, Walter Donaldson was perfectly content to reminisce on warmer and brighter days, during the 1990s, when he lived in Florida.

Donaldson lived there during and after his service in the Army. He taught high school students and even volunteered for the American Red Cross after a tropical storm. The years since then haven’t always been easy or kind to Donaldson, he said, with a wizened smile and a follow up declaration that he’s doing better now, with a place to stay on the southwest side of Milwaukee and a chance to teach again. On this day, he attributed an upbeat attitude partly to thoughts of Florida during a Midwestern winter, and partly from the clothing, personal items and resources he received at the Milwaukee Veterans Stand Down.

“This helps. I’m grateful, all of this helps,” Donaldson said, pointing to clothing and Red Cross bags.

Donaldson joined more than 170 area veterans at the Stand Down rally at The Armory, a bi-annual event that focuses on homeless or at-risk veterans. At Saturday’s Stand Down, veterans had the opportunity to meet with dozens of organizations, including the Red Cross, veterans’ groups and food providers, health professionals and hair stylists, as well as various state and federal agencies. Service to the Armed Forces volunteers and staff from the Red Cross once again provided hygiene items and informational/communication resources for veterans.

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A veteran in prayer during Saturday’s event at The Richards Street Armory.

The event is billed as a “hand up, not a handout” for veterans. Between meals, check-ins and conversation, the rally included call-and-response shout outs to the five branches of the military, patriotic songs and a plea from organizer Stan Kogutkiewicz for vets in the crowd to use the resources in the room.

“Do not leave here until you get going on your problems,” echoed George Martin, one of the event emcees.

For Marvin Britton, that meant taking a stroll through the booths that packed The Armory. Britton’s gold Army ring caught the light as he talked and clutched onto a smooth wooden cane, as he shared straightforward stories of service, of addiction, of sweethearts long gone. Since his service in Vietnam, from 1974-78, life took him to San Diego and La Crosse, with time on and off in Milwaukee. These days, he’s staying in Union Grove at the Wisconsin Veterans Home, from where a group of veterans bused in for the rally.

“I’m fine, now … just trying to stay healthy. Got my backpack, going to the booths after I get some of [those] clothes” from the clothing donation line, he said.

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Veterans received information on ways they can connect with resources and family from the American Red Cross.

Ready to meet Britton, Donaldson and all the veterans were volunteers like Bob Nelson. Nelson joined the small team handing out American Red Cross bags with hygiene items and veterans resources information at the west end of the stout military hall. Nelson’s son is in the Marine Corps, connecting him to a lineage of men who have served in their family. For Bob Nelson – also on the Red Cross disaster action team – meeting and sharing with veterans at the Stand Down rally is a small gesture of gratitude.

“This is something I can do, I can be here,” Nelson said.

For more information on the Milwaukee Veterans Stand Down event, click here.

To get involved or find out more on the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces mission for veterans and military service members and their families, click here.

Welcome Rich Seymour

rich-seymourWe’re proud to announce that Rich Seymour has joined the Wisconsin team as our Service to the Armed Forces Director! Just retiring from the Army after 30 years, Rich is excited to start a career where he will continue to care for service members, veterans and their families.

During his illustrious work with the Army, he completed multiple deployments and attained the rank of Command Sergeant Major, the highest enlisted rank in the Army. Throughout his career he became familiar with and utilized the Red Cross Services to the Armed Forces.

“I continuously used Red Cross as a tool to help the soldiers and families that I had under my leadership. I can give you hundreds of stories where Red Cross services contributed to the morale and welfare of the Armed Forces members.”

Originally from Baraboo, Wisconsin, he’s called many places “home” over the years -the Republic of Panama, South Korea, and various places stateside. Along for the ride have been his wife and two sons – and his dogs, too.

We could not be more excited to have Rich on the Red Cross team and back in his home state of Wisconsin!

If you’d like to get involved with the Red Cross, click here.

To look at Red Cross employment opportunities, click here.

Share Holiday Cheer!

The Holiday Mail for Heroes program is an avenue for people to share their appreciation of those who have served our country. The goal is to give service members and Veterans a little holiday cheer by presenting them with letters and cards of thanks.

This year, we are collecting hand-made or store bought cards. Plus, we have JUMBO cards around the state and at special events for residents to sign.  We kicked-off the campaign at the state Capitol.  Cards received by December 11th will be sorted and then presented at common Wisconsin venues, military installations, VA Hospitals, State Veteran Homes and more.

IMG_2134Get in the holiday spirit and send us your best cards! We’ll do the rest!  Here are few guidelines to get you going:

What is the Holiday Mail for Heroes Program? Since 2006, the American Red Cross has received and distributed nearly 10 million holiday cards for members of the U.S. Armed Forces and Veterans. The Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes program enables Americans to “Give Something That Means Something” this holiday season by signing and sending cards of thanks, encouragement and holiday cheer to members of our U.S. Armed Forces and Veterans.

I don’t know anyone in the military; how do I participate? You don’t need to know anyone in the military. Red Cross workers will distribute signed cards from the community to members of the military and Veterans right here in Wisconsin.

Cards are not addressed to anyone specific, so who gets these cards? We will distribute cards to service members and Veterans throughout Wisconsin. Cards will be handed to service members and Veterans, or displayed at common venues in military installations and hospitals.

Can I drop cards off at my local Red Cross office? Yes, your created cards can be dropped off by December 11th at your local Red Cross office or even better mail them to: American Red Cross, 4860 Sheboygan Avenue, Madison, WI 53705

Will my card be distributed to our troops overseas? Our National office has shipped cards to military bases around the globe so your cards will make the holiday brighter throughout Wisconsin.

What is the goal for the 2015 Holiday Mail for Heroes Program? The goal is to share season’s greeting and holiday cheer to the members of our Armed Forces and Veterans, creating millions of smiles.

Are there other restrictions and guidelines for cards? In order to make cards as meaningful as possible to a wide audience, choose or create  “Happy Holiday” cards and use generic titles such as “Dear Service Member, or Veteran” when writing cards.  Cards should not contain:

  • Glitter that could aggravate existing health issues.
  • Enclosures such as money calling cards, photos, or other gifts.
  • Complete mailing address.  (City and State are okay)
  • Email addresses.

Can I include money in the cards? Please do not enclose money with the holiday cards. If you wish to provide financial support for Red Cross services to the military, please donate online.

How can I find out more information about the Holiday Mail program?

Nurse Assistant Training – Free Training for Service Members & Veterans

WWPTogether the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) and American Red Cross will offer Red Cross Nurse Assistant Training (NAT) scholarships through local Red Cross offices that currently offer an authorized Red Cross NAT course.

Who is eligible?

Through this partnership, the Red Cross and Wounded Warrior Project will support wounded, ill or injured service members/veterans who incur or incurred service-connected wounds, injuries and illnesses (physical and psychological) on or after September 11, 2001. Support also extends to the immediate family members or caregivers of eligible service members.

Nurse Assistant Training Courses

The Red Cross Nurse Assistant Training Program (NAT) provides Wounded Warriors, immediate family members and caregivers with the information and skills they need to become certified nurse assistants (CNA).  After completing the course and passing a state certification exam, nurse assistants have skills that provide them with employment opportunities in a variety of health care environments, including long-term care facilities, acute care facilities and in-home health care environments.

Click HERE to learn more about the class.

Nurse Assistant Training Scholarship Guidelines

Eligibility

  • Participants for the scholarships must meet the following criteria:
    • Wounded Warriors/veterans who incur service-connected wounds, injuries and illnesses (physical or psychological) on or after September 11, 2001 or immediate family member or caregivers of eligible service members

Costs

  • Each scholarship will cover 100% of the cost to be applied to the course and testing fees.
    • In no case will the scholarship be more than the actual course fee.
  • At least 50 scholarships will be awarded under this grant and will be issued on a first come/first served basis.
  • Scholarships must be used prior to June 30, 2014.

Qualifying candidates can attend any of our six Wisconsin locations.  Nurse Assistant Training is currently available at the following Red Cross locations:

Specific course and to request a registration form can be directed to Tanya Christianson at 715-902-1035 or via email at Tanya.Christianson@redcross.org.

Giving Back to our American Heroes

By: Kaitlyn Schmitt, UWO Red Cross Club, Service to Armed Forces Chair

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The UW Oshkosh American Red Cross Club joined Americorps Vet Corps and Adrianne Benson, Americorps Vet Corps member and Red Cross volunteer, to return to volunteer at King Veteran’s Home on March 16th. This time, we provided help with multiple activities. Half of the volunteers helped with a game of bingo and the other half went downstairs to the bowling alley for some rounds of bowling and snacks.

I volunteered with Bingo and I passed out prize quarters and collected bingo cards. We even had coffee and cookies for the Veterans. The Veterans got so excited when they won, and I heard a lot of them calling out their own numbers they needed to win. Bingo was very competitive. There was lots of great socialization and laughter heard in the room. I had several Veterans come up to me afterwards and thank me for being there. Then I thought, “Wow, we should be the ones thanking them for their service!” It was another incredible opportunity to give back to those who selflessly served us. UWO Red Cross member, Samantha Johnson, stated: “It’s a great feeling being able to give back to the veterans who risked their lives for our country.”

The bowling alley was full of excitement as well. The veterans definitely taught us younger volunteers how to bowl! It was exciting to see their faces as they knocked all the pins down.

UWO Red Cross President, Angie Dusenberry, exclaimed: “Bowling with the Veterans from King could not have been a more rewarding experience. It was heart-warming to be able to share the laughs and great experiences with the individuals who gave me my freedom – even if they did kick my butt in bowling!”

(l-r) UW Oshkosh Red Cross Club Members  Angie Dusenberry, Kaitlyn Schmitt and Samantha Johnson.

(l-r) UW Oshkosh Red Cross Club Members
Brenna Schobert , Angie Dusenberry, Kaitlyn Schmitt and Samantha Johnson.

The Veterans had a blast bowling and still have the skill. UWO Red Cross member, Brenna Schobert, expressed: “It was amazing to spend just a few hours giving back to those who gave up so much for our country. They are incredible people and I feel truly blessed to have helped to put a smile on their faces.”

Several of the veterans thanked us and said that they hope we return to volunteer again. We will definitely be returning for more fun-filled days with the veterans. Not only do we brighten their day, I know they brighten mine.

We enjoyed the stories, excitement, and camaraderie. We all walked away with smiles on our faces. This is the greatest generation and volunteering at the Veteran’s home is truly a blessing. I know I definitely leave King Veteran’s Home feeling inspired and happy. There is nothing greater than volunteering during American Red Cross month and “being a hero” to the true heroes in America’s hearts – the Veterans.