#HOPEHeroes: Teams of Family Service Specialists come together during Sooner Stand Down to serve homeless veterans
Sooner Stand Down is an annual event that gives Oklahoma veterans who are homeless an opportunity to connect with community resources, including applying for housing, legal support, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other services, as well as getting a hot meal.
This year, Kricia Phillips, SNAP Programs Field Representative, coordinated the event for the Oklahoma Human Services teams. She sent an email to Adult and Family Services (AFS) staff asking for volunteers, and they answered the call to serve at the events in Oklahoma City in Sept. 2022 and in Tulsa in Nov. 2022. The Oklahoma City team consisted of Family Services Specialists Rachel McCathern, Jean Brown, James Dorrough, Robin Abell and Jamie Mills. The Tulsa team consisted of Sandy Floyd, Mary Daniels, Kelly Henriquez and Lacresha Graham. Phillips served with both teams.
According to Phillips, the teams assisted more than 30 veterans with SNAP and medical benefits, including printing Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards so the veterans could access their benefits the same day. The teams also answered any questions about the services provided by the agency.
Phillips has been with Oklahoma Human Services for almost 17 years, first as a Child Welfare Specialist and then serving in AFS for the last nine years. She became involved with Sooner Stand Down in 2018 when she volunteered through a request from the SNAP unit at the State Office. “Veterans are my passion,” says Phillips. “Anytime I can help a veteran to find hope, it amplifies my purpose in life. Being able to tell someone they qualify for benefits is so rewarding. To see the light in their eyes and smile on their faces is priceless.”
McCathern has been with Oklahoma Human Services for almost eight years. Her brother is a combat veteran, so others who have also served their country hold a very special place in her heart. “I wanted to be able to not only let veterans know about [Oklahoma Human Services] safety net programs, but also give them resources for any other community programs they may be eligible for.”
When Brown received the email from Phillips, she said she wanted to volunteer because, “I have a heart for the people and giving back to those in need is a work that is endless.”
Brown knows she can make someone’s day a little less stressful when she is able to help them with their SNAP or medical case, or provide a referral to a community partner who can help with clothes, food, toiletries or pet food. Offering other resources or helping individuals enroll for benefits ensures that many of the state’s most vulnerable citizens can begin to see a path forward. As they receive the services and care they need, they can begin to feel hopeful for the future. Brown has been with Oklahoma Human Services for seven years.
Dorrough is a veteran himself. He served in the Navy for 22 years and is an embedded worker for the Veteran Affairs Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VA HUD-VASH) and the Homeless Alliance. He said the best part about this event was visiting with the veterans and hearing their personal stories. When asked what he gained personally from volunteering for this event, he said, “Just the fact that I’m giving back to my community and helping my fellow veterans.”
Abell has been with Oklahoma Human Services for two years. She heard about Sooner Stand Down through her co-workers and wanted to serve because she appreciates opportunities to reach vulnerable populations.
Henriquez and Graham volunteered at the Tulsa event. Henriquez is a Family Services Specialist IV/Supervisor and has previously worked at past Sooner Stand Downs. She enjoyed getting to network with other agencies and partners and receiving the smiles and thanks from the veterans. Graham, Family Service Specialist II, has been with Oklahoma Human Services since 2018. She said, “If I can do anything to make a process easier from them, I do not mind taking time out of my day.”
Service is a way of life for these HOPE Heroes. By volunteering at this event, they were able to use their professional skills to give back to the local heroes who have given so much for their country.
Other agencies that participated in Sooner Stand Down included:
- VA Health Care System
- Veteran Benefits Administration
- Oklahoma State Department of Veterans Affairs
- American Red Cross
- Oklahoma Employment Security Commission
- Social Security Administration
- Homeless Alliance
- Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency
- Workforce Oklahoma
- Goodwill Industries SSVF
- HOPE Community Services
- Department of Housing and Urban Development
- Upward Transitions
- Legal Aid
- Oklahoma City Housing Authority
- Taxpayer Advocates
- Red Rock Behavioral Health Services
- OKC Vet Center
- North Care
- Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
- Oklahoma Dental Foundation
- Delta Dental of Oklahoma
- OU College of Nursing
- Catholic Charities
- Heartline 2-1-1
- VFW Ladies Auxilliary
- Soldiers Angels
- The Oklahoma National Guard 36th Street Barbershop Volunteers of America Veterans’ Employment Program
- Cheyenne and Arapaho Housing Authority
- Salvation Army
- Soul Survivor Supporting Living Foundation
- Caption Call
Do you have a #HopeHeroes story you would like to share? Email it to HopeHeroes@okdhs.org.