Lawrence Hawkins is a man on a mission; Hawkins is the supervising rehabilitation therapist at the William J. “Pete” Knight Veterans Home in Lancaster, Calif., and his mission is to offer retired American veterans the very best quality that life has to offer for those who live at the local home.
He does that through hard work, determination, dedication, caring and an acute sense of perception.
Hawkins supervises the home’s activities coordinators and designs what he calls therapeutic activities for the residents.
Hawkins says the home isn’t a place for veterans to come and vegetate, “We keep them active,” he said. “I try to make sure that it’s a balanced program that includes physical [and mental] activities,” he says, describing what it takes to make the activities therapeutic.
“We do Tai Chi twice a week, stretch classes twice a week, and swimming once a week,” he said. Hawkins says, however, none of his classes or scheduled activities is mandatory, “Our residents are free to participate or not, it’s their choice.”
To keep their spirit alive and attitude healthy the Hawkins-designed activity roster offers its residents music activities, arts and crafts classes, and a variety of table games. “They enjoy playing card games,” he says of the former American warriors. “It’s relaxing, they get to play with each other and the facility’s staff members.”
Hawkins said he and his staff all participate in the activities, a practice that transforms the staff into friends.
In addition to the in-house activities, Hawkins sees to it that the resident veterans are offered a variety of community outings.
“We go to the movies at least twice a month, we attend Jethawk games, visit museums throughout the Los Angeles area and enjoy a list of outings too long to mention” Hawkins said. “Many places will provide either discounts or even free admission for veterans, for example Knott’s Berry Farm welcomes our vets to the Orange County amusement park once a year at no charge”.
That’s all part of what Hawkins does; he contacts businesses throughout Los Angeles and surrounding California counties and charms them into helping support his resident veterans.
“It can cost $80 to park a bus at the Getty Museum, but museum officials allow our veterans bus to park for free, so we visit the museum once a year. The Santa Anita Racetrack welcomes our vets in for free on Thursdays during the racing season,” Hawkins says, adding that there are a myriad of groups that offer discounts to the “Pete” Knight Veterans Home residents.
The Antelope Valley community, known for its support of veterans, lives up to its patriotic reputation through the many volunteer services it offers residents at the local veterans’ home. “Almost everyone who comes into the home with their services offer their particular service and time free of any charge,” Hawkins says.
Many of the residents describe their life at the local veterans’ home as living in a top notch luxury resort facility with upscale amenities.
“All that we’re missing here is our own swimming pool,” resident veteran John Gonzalez once said.
Although Hawkins himself was never called to serve his country, he comes from a family of veterans and says because of their service he never had to face the horrors of war, and because of them he has developed an endless respect for American veterans.
“Both my father and grandfather were World War II veterans. My dad was an 18-year-old mechanic in General Bradley’s Army and served at D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge. My dad’s job was to get the tanks and jeeps running after the main fighting had ended and take them up to General Patton’s Army,” Hawkins proudly states.
His mother’s father was drafted and sent to the Pacific to fight.
“He was on a troop transport to Japan and ready to participate in the invasion of Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped. By the time he arrived on the scene, the war was over and he became part of the occupation.”
Hawkins said his Grandfather Harry Miles came to love Japan. “He also loved my wife Reiko, who was born in Tokyo. We named our son Miles after him.”
A pro with restorative activities, Hawkins began his career as a registered music therapist and used music as a healing tool.
Today he expands on the tools he uses depending on the needs of his California veterans.
“What I found is that the veterans love to learn and grow, they enjoy classes where they feel they are learning. They like being entertained and enjoy attending live performances.”
To help quench their thirst for knowledge Hawkins has struck a deal with the local National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
“NASA Dryden sends someone here once a month to lecture our residents,” Hawkins said. He said his NASA representative is currently trying to line up a NASA astronaut to talk to his vets.
Personnel from Edwards Air Force Base are actively involved with the home’s resident veterans. “They come out once a month and barbecue a great lunch for our residents, and they supply all the meat.”
Air Force personnel also invite the older veterans to the base for special events, Hawkins said.
The Lancaster Veterans of Foreign Wars service organization also visits the home once a month and barbecues for the residents, “That’s a case of veterans honoring veterans,” Hawkins says.
Hawkins didn’t solicit all the services the veterans’ home enjoys, some businesses contacted the home and offered their services. “The Lancaster VFW contacted us the day we opened our doors and offered their support,” Hawkins said. He said VFW organizations from the Tehachapi Mountains to Rosamond, Quartz Hill and Lancaster all have a part in supporting the Veterans Home. The home enjoys the same support from various American Legion Posts, Elks and Rotary Clubs.
Hawkins is a man who enjoys what he does, he says he loves reporting to work every day. “I love working with these guys, they are so appreciative of everything we do for them.”
When asked what makes veterans so special to him Hawkins replied, “They served our country, we owe them our freedom, we owe them our ability to live comfortably the way we do,” he said., adding, “They should be treated well, they should be honored.”