Adopted veterans get visit from St. Nick and the Henderson Office of Employment and Training’s Angel Tree for Christmas
HENDERSON, Ky. – Staff members of the Henderson Office of Employment and Training (OET) are hoping to make Christmas merry and bright for local veterans in assisted living homes and nursing homes with the help of local angels. About 70 veterans will get a visit from St. Nick Dec. 22 when OET employees distribute gifts from the Henderson OET Veterans’ Angel Tree.
Art Hayden, local veterans employment representative at OET’s Henderson office, said all of the veterans on the Veterans’ Angel Tree have been adopted and more than $950 has been donated by the community for the project. All donations will go toward gifts for the veterans.
“All we have left on the tree are the flags,” Hayden said, referring to the patriotic-themed angel tree with flags from all of the armed forces that is standing in the Henderson office.
“I think the community really loved it. Some of them have veterans in their families and they’re glad to see them get recognition,” he said.
The Henderson OET Veterans’ Angel Tree grew from 47 names its first year in 2005 to 70 names this year. Veterans from eight assisted living and nursing homes in Henderson, Union and Webster counties were adopted by local angels who wanted to honor them for their service. Hayden said the Veterans’ Angel Tree is also a good way to get the word out that OET has special services to help area veterans find employment.
“We want to thank the community for seeing the need to honor our veterans. It’s been a great success because of the generosity of the community and we hope to do it again next year,” Hayden said.
OET’s Henderson office sponsored the Veterans’ Angel Tree as one of several community outreach projects they do throughout the year. Rhonda Bowles, director of the Henderson office, said all of the employees in the office have gotten involved in the project and are excited about helping the community.
“It’s a common project with a common goal that we can do together. We really enjoy it. It’s a really fun thing to do. They’re very supportive of it,” Bowles said.
She said when Hayden suggested the angel tree for veterans who are no longer able to live independently and are sometimes forgotten, the employees stood ready to help. Bowles said the Veterans’ Angel Tree hits especially “close to home” for the employees because two of them are veterans and several are married to veterans.
“We couldn’t stand the thought that they had served their country and now they are on the back burner,” said Bowles. “It’s a great project that nobody else is doing.”
Bowles said many of the angels who adopted veterans were doing it in honor of a loved one who had served in the armed forces and has died. One lady told Bowles that adopting a veteran was a way to honor her uncle who died at Pearl Harbor and the memory of her father who also served in the military.
Most of the adopted veterans served during the World War II era or during the cold war. Like many Americans from their generation, they view their military service as part of their duty. Hayden said most of the older veterans are “self effacing” and don’t see their military service as extraordinary.
One veteran from the angel tree said he “only served two years during peace time” and talked about others in the assisted living home that had served in combat. He doesn’t see the importance of his service in Germany when the Berlin wall was going up.
Another adopted veteran, John North, who was at Pearl Harbor, was more concerned that the “needier veterans” who don’t have family would get Christmas gifts. The navy veteran is glad to see veterans being remembered at Christmas, especially the ones who do not have family. North, 90, and his wife Catherine, 84, both served in the U.S. Navy. Catherine served in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) for a year during World War II and John served for six years. The two married after WWII and now live near their daughter in Henderson at the Colonial Assisted Living Community.
“We’re glad we served our country. We did it voluntarily. We are some of the luckiest people in the world. We both got through the war without a scratch,” John said.
“Some veterans think they’ve been forgotten or that their service was not important, but we need to be reminded and they need to be reminded that it is important,” Hayden said. “We wanted to show honor and respect to the veterans who have served our country in peace time and war. If they hadn’t served we might not be celebrating Christmas now.”
Hayden, who is retired from the army, said the angel tree is just one way to let older veterans know how much the community appreciates their sacrifice. “We wanted to look them in the eye, shake their hand and give them a salute. It touches my heart to see the veterans get recognition and respect,” he said.
Sherry Bills, social service marketing director at Colonial Assisted Living Community, said the visit and gifts mean a lot to veterans who do not have family nearby or have many visitors. “Most of them would like to be home for Christmas, so when we can have gifts brought in it makes it easier for them,” she said.
Bills said most of them enjoy talking about their military service. “They’re happy that they are being recognized. A lot of times, veterans don’t get recognized,” she said.
Bowles said while the project was a huge undertaking, it was well worth the effort. “Anytime you can get the whole office to participate in a project it’s good. This has been good for the office, good for the community and good for the veterans. It’s a win, win, win for everybody,” she said.
OET is an agency of the Department for Workforce Investment in the Education Cabinet. The primary services of the office are to help individuals prepare for, secure, and maintain employment; assist employers in locating and selecting the best qualified workers for their job openings; and provide income maintenance to ease the financial burden on individuals who are out of work through no fault of their own.
The Kentucky Education Cabinet coordinates learning programs from P-16, and manages and supports training and employment functions in the Department for Workforce Investment. For more information about our programs, visit www.educationcabinet.ky.gov or www.workforce.ky.gov, or call 502-564-6606.