Motivational speakers, meals, manicures and information on District services all were included in D.C.’s eighth annual Veterans Appreciation Day.
Booths offering perspective on everything from jobs and housing to legal services and medical advice were available to veterans Friday at THEARC theater in Southeast D.C.
“Today is about connecting with veterans who might be in need — to provide resources, assistance, education and a platform to connect them to the resources that many veterans are still in need of,” said Sharod Wade, operations director at the D.C. Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs.
Wade is a Marine Corps combat veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He’d previously experienced homelessness, but has just bought a house in Ward 7.
“Thankfully, through my connections and engagement with D.C. Housing Authority and the other resources across the city, many of the needs me and my family have needed throughout the years and throughout our journey to homeownership have been met,” Wade said.
Wade’s role at the event was as a resource, as a friend and as a fellow veteran to inspire and motivate vets to let them know they can make their dreams a reality, he said.
“When I came to this event four years ago, I was homeless,” said Franselene St. Jean, a 15-year Navy veteran.
At that time, St. Jean was in transitional housing sponsored by the group So Others Might Eat. She attended homeownership classes, helped build her own home with Ryan Homes, and then was appointed by the mayor to be a D.C. Housing Authority commissioner in the Housing Choice Voucher Program.
She had some advice for vets: Be dedicated.
“Have the courage — just like when you went into the military, you were dedicated and you were stronghearted. Continue to do that, and you will have it. You’ll have whatever you need,” St. Jean said.
“It can work. You just need perseverance. Get the resources you need. Get educated. Ask questions.”
Enjoying a manicure at the event, 22-year Army veteran Rochelle Washington was a combat medic nurse.
“I was a nurse for 19 years,” Washington said. “They gave me assistance on taking care of — or taking over — a mental home for the elderly.”
The first step on her journey will involve taking two mental health classes.
Washington takes care of her dad, who is 89 years old. She said her great-aunt just turned 103.
Washington’s manicurist, Fatu Job, is “pretty sure [Washington] can make her dreams come true,” she said.
“You’ve got to work for what you want to do, and I’m sure you’ll be able to accomplish whatever you want to do,” said Job, a cosmetology student at the Bennett Career Institute, whose students were volunteering their services.
“We’re here today doing haircuts and manicures, giving back to the people that served us,” said Brenda Arnold, coordinator of outreach services for the institute. “The veterans happen to be so special for us now, but every day, we go out to serve someone in the community.”