If more people knew they can do simple acts to help a veteran in their community, more people would want to do it. That’s what Theresa Cheng believes.
Cheng is a retired dentist who has devoted her time to connect community members with low-income veterans and their families through her nonprofit organization, Everyone for Veterans.
Everyone for Veterans is making an effort to connect each community with honoring low-income veterans, according to their website. The nonprofit initially started as a grassroots effort of volunteers and continues to uphold those values today.
Everyone for Veterans connects qualified veterans and their families with volunteer dentists in their community, as well as with other volunteer businesses or individuals in the community.
“What we’re doing is filling the gaps and breaking down the veteran issue into small pieces so people can help,” Cheng said.
Cheng said she first started helping veterans and their families prior to retirement, on what she called a free dental day during the Thanksgiving season.
Once she had a connection with a veteran, Cheng said she simply could not take on another case.
“The fact that I am able to do something keeps me going,” she said. “I must say, there were times it was overwhelming – all those needs – but you just do one thing at a time… if I can make a difference, I’ll keep doing it.”
With 7.6 percent of the population being a veteran, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can only do so much. But there is power in a community.
Within the nonprofit, Cheng explained there is a program that allows community members to connect with veterans.
The Wingman program pairs individuals with low-income veterans. Individuals are given a “mission” according to the need, and they can be creative in accomplishing the mission.
“A key piece to the Wingman [program] is to get our veterans to feel less alienated, and (ensure) they know there are a lot of people that they can connect (with),” Cheng said.
Cheng said it’s not an impossible mission — it’s very doable and everyone can do something.
It can be something simple, but significant, like buying groceries or clothes for a family, finding a veterinarian for a veteran’s service dog, providing birthday party supplies for children, or buying a mattress for a family to sleep on.
For Alice Richard, it was a great opportunity to reach out to the community and be a Wingman to a veteran family.
By being the first district president for the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Washington, which has implemented hundreds of programs for veterans and their families, Richard was familiar with helping veterans.
But through the Wingman program, Richard was connected with a veteran family in Federal Way. While meeting and talking to the family, Richard learned the family was sleeping on the floor.
With the help of seven other women, Richard raised enough funds to buy the family a mattress and a bed frame.
Richard recalls delivering the mattress, along with some presents, on one of the coldest days. She said the family was so warm and welcoming.
“It opened your heart up and it’s overwhelming. All the family gave us a big hug because they really appreciated it,” Richard said. “Your heart just beats for joy because you have brightened someone’s day.”
Reminiscing, Richard said she would do it again — she would step up to the plate to be a Wingman.
“I think it’s good because every community member that is out there, they have an expertise in certain areas,” Richard said.
Everyone for Veterans is not limited to Washington state. The nonprofit has helped veterans in 15 states. Cheng said a veteran could be in Idaho looking for services and the organization would still look for a way to help that veteran’s need.
By being a Wingman, community members can also help veterans via phone by helping them find resources, services and volunteer dentists in their area.
To qualify, veterans and spouses must meet the organization’s requirements, such as being deployed to combat/conflict areas, and who have financial challenges and are low-income.
Cheng said when you help a veteran you are truly thanking them for their service.
“This gives me the satisfaction of saying thank for your service,” she said. “To me, That’s so much more meaningful.”
To learn more about Everyone for Veterans and to sign up to be a Wingman, go online to www.everyonforveterans.org.