Veterans Outreach roars back after COVID setback

LANCASTER, Calif.— In the 18 years since the first Antelope Valley Veterans Stand Down was held at Antelope Valley College, the region’s mission to help, heal and house men and women who came home with outward and inward scars of war was much the same at this year’s AV Veterans Outreach on Aug. 28.

Despite having to cancel the 2020 Outreach due to COVID-19 restrictions, Steve Baker, director of co-organizing Grace Resources, said the event bounced back from the 18-month hiatus with no losses in volunteers, participants or services to veterans.

Joane Sampson, who signed-in veterans, said 86 registered by 10 a.m., and 10 more vets arrived before lunch. Baker said more than 7,000 military veterans have attended the event since its beginning. He estimated that more than 50 volunteers provided support services for the day, in addition to officials and staff representing more than a dozen local, county, state and federal offices and agencies.

This year, as in the past, motivation to attend was for many veterans the hope of getting timely action, or failing that, the opportunity to find advocacy for improvements in veterans’ service programs at every level of government.

Lancaster Rotary Club, one of the event’s first, longest tenured and major source of volunteer services to veterans, showed up early and stayed late with adult Rotarians led by president and 18-year member Celia Gray. And Lancaster High School’s Rotary Interact Club came out in force to serve breakfast and lunch and keep four 60-cup capacity coffee pots available. Coffee consumption for the day was around 300 cups.

Adopting the Rotary International motto, “Service Above Self,” Interact membership is in some cases a family tradition, as in the case of the Acevedo sisters. Aileen, a senior member of the club, was joined for the day of volunteer service by your younger sibling, Mia, an 8th-grader at Amargosa Creek Middle School.

A cornerstone in the foundation of the AV Veterans Outreach Committee is Point Man Antelope Valley, a non-profit serving spiritual, physical and emotional needs of veterans and their families.

Mike Bertell, decorated Army combat veteran of the Vietnam War, has served as Point Man Outpost Leader for nine years, succeeding the Valley’s first Point Man, George Palermo, now serving as Point Man Arizona.

Bertell leads weekly meetings in which military veterans meet in a safe environment to share stories and help each other heal through a combination of therapy and chat.

“What’s said there stays there,” Bertell said. He is assisted by licensed marriage and family therapists and U.S. Army veterans Dennis Anderson and Gerry Rice.

With the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, sessions met in Zoom format. Bertell said Point Man AV is now looking for a new donated meeting space with room for up to 15 persons every Tuesday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. He can be contacted at 661-435-7695 or via email at mike@avwall.org.

In addition to its direct work with veterans, Point Man AV is the guardian for maintaining, storing and displaying the Mobile Vietnam Memorial Wall, a source of emotional healing for many Vietnam veterans.

Although new veterans support services have been added over the years, many of the original features for immediate care of veterans in difficult circumstances remain. Vets 4 Veterans provided multiple tables stacked high with free wearing apparel. Barbers and stylists provide free haircuts and grooming. A dental team was on hand, along with representatives of Alcoholics Anonymous, the Honorable Service Career Center, Lifeline for Vets and the Veterans Peer Access Network.

And many organizations continue to offer personalized help and sources and resources to vets, including Blue Star Mothers, VFW 3000 Auxiliary, and Grace Veterans Fellowship, among others.

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