Operation Stand Down: Helping veterans help themselves

The US Census says that more than 70,000 veterans live in Rhode Island. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development 2017 Point in Time report said that 95 of those veterans are homeless, but it is difficult to determine definitively how many are homeless or severely struggling and in need of further support and services. Operation Stand Down is an organization that provides “A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out” for homeless and at-risk low-income veterans with or without disabilities. Their “housing first model” helps provide permanent or traditional housing, along with a plethora of other services that are aimed at getting individual veterans the support they need to start getting back on their feet.

Operation Stand Down got its start in 1993, with an outreach weekend that offered services to homeless veterans. They were recruited and bussed in, staying in tents for the weekend. They were given the opportunity to meet with doctors, dentists and social workers and get a haircut and new clothes, among many other services, all while meeting and reconnecting with fellow veterans. This event, the Annual Stand Down Weekend, which has since become a staple in the Rhode Island veteran community, grew in stature, as did the organization. The small staff of volunteers determined that more needed to be done to curb veteran homelessness in Rhode Island and went to work on securing grants and funding to start developing housing.

In 2001, they opened their headquarters and first housing complex in Johnston. The complex consisted of seven apartments, which were quickly occupied. They currently own and operate 59 units of permanent and transitional housing located on five campuses throughout the state, housing 88 veterans and their families and providing rental assistance for close to 300 other veterans. They assist more than 2,000 veterans a year through all of their programs, which include employment services, VA benefit assistance, a veteran food pantry, case management and legal assistance. They have a staff of 14 people, in addition to a board of directors and many volunteers.

Operation Stand Down was founded by veterans and continues to employ veterans, which Director of Development and Legal Services Dee DeQuattro Rothermel, Esq, says is their greatest strength.

“Operation Stand Down RI follows the veteran-helping-veteran model. The majority of our staff are veterans themselves or currently serving in the National Guard. Because of this, staff members are able to relate directly to their clients through shared experiences and a common culture.”

Operation Stand Down receives funding through grants, donations and many popular fundraising events, including steak fries, galas, bike runs and 5Ks. They also have sponsorships from both local and national businesses. People and businesses are drawn to Operation Stand Down because of their dedication to their mission.

“It takes a mission that is meaningful and important,” DeQuattro Rothernel says when asked what it takes to run a successful non-profit organization. “It takes a dedicated staff of professionals who are dedicated to executing that mission to the best of their ability.”

DeQuattro Rothernel boasts that they have recently rolled out a full-time legal program, which will fill a major gap in services, and doubled the size of their employment program, which will benefit individuals as well as the state.

“One of the veterans we recently helped was a National Guard member who had been sleeping on the drill shed floor,” she says proudly. “We were able to hook him up with housing and find him meaningful full-time employment so that he could support himself and afford a place to live.”

It is important to Operation Stand Down that the veterans they support are willing to put in the work needed to improve their own lives.

When asked what their motto, “A Hand Up, Not a Hand Out,” means to him, President and Chairman Anthony DeQuattro says: “It means that we will lift up our brothers and sisters and get them the assistance they need, but we are not a hand out. We expect that our clients are active participants in the process and want to help themselves.”

Operation Stand Down is located at 1010 Hartford Ave in Johnston. As a non-profit, they are always accepting donations to help better the lives of homeless and at-risk veterans. For more information, call 401-383-4730 or visit their website at osdri.org

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