A local nonprofit group is working to help veterans receive the support they need when they return home from serving their country.
The 14th annual Laura’s Summit County Stand Down event will be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 10 at VFW 3383 at 690 W. Waterloo Road in Akron.
The annual day of community-based programming helps local homeless and displaced veterans prepare for the winter months.
"Those veterans who are coming out of the service, transitioning out now, they lose their support system,” said Summit County Veterans Service Commission Executive Director Larry Moore. “So we have to get that support back.”
The group is named for founder Laura Williams Dunlop, a Korean War veteran. Dunlop, who served as the Summit County Veterans Service commissioner and was inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame in 2003, died in 2015. She started the organization to help homeless or displaced veterans or those in need of help, with a philosophy of a “hand up” not a “handout,” Moore said.
The nonprofit helped 322 veterans in 2018 and 354 veterans in 2017.
The event next month, which is registered with the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, will include a foot clinic, eye clinic, HIV screening, blood pressure screening, mental health resources, flu shots, haircuts, a hot lunch, legal aid, ID cards, Goodwill vouchers, cold weather gear, boots, hygiene items, chaplains, jobs and training, fellowship and government services, including helping veterans who want to get home loans or go to school on the GI Bill.
But Moore said the primary focus of the event is to get veterans connected with their earned benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“If we just help one person to get them enrolled in something, that's one more person that's not out on the street,” said Moore, who estimated 320 to 350 veterans will attend the event.
About 20 people attended a Tuesday morning news conference at the Summit County Veterans Service Commission. The county and FirstEnergy Foundation each presented a $10,000 check to Laura's Summit County Stand Down.
“As a 31-year veteran of the Air Force, retired, it's important to know that there are organizations out there that are committed to help those members that have served in a time of need,” FirstEnergy regional external affairs manager Troy Rhoades said.
The county and FirstEnergy Foundation have given a total of $80,000 to the nonprofit through the Step Up for Stand Down collaboration, which began in 2016 after a fire destroyed donated items intended for homeless and displaced veterans. Summit County and FirstEnergy gave donations to fill the gap in supplies due to the fire.
"In Summit County, we do not believe that any veteran should ever go without the basic necessities,” said Greta Johnson, assistant chief of staff to Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro.
County Council President Jeff Wilhite shared the story of a recent trip to Fort Benning, Georgia, to watch his daughter's boyfriend graduate from boot camp.
"These young ladies and gentlemen who go out and stand up for our country certainly deserve our support when they come home,” he said. “It's just as important as when they're in active service.”
For more information, visit summitcountystanddown.org.
Contact reporter Emily Mills at 330-996-3334, firstname.lastname@example.org and @EmilyMills818.