LACONIA — Veterans Count was conceived in 2007 when Easter Seals' board member, Mike Salter, sought to bring comprehensive, emergency aid to veterans and their families whose quality of life was significantly impacted by deployment to war zones.
A veteran of the U.S. Army Special Forces, Salter and the Easter Seals NH President and CEO Larry Gammon approached the NH Joint Force Headquarters (NH National Guard), at that time commanded by Laconia native Major General Kenneth Clark, New Hampshire's Adjutant General, and the NH Department of Health and Human Services for assistance in designing a compassionate, responsive, highly-targeted care program for veterans and their families who were "falling through the cracks," as a result of service to their country.
''The paint was peeling off the walls of the Walter Reed Hospital and their were huge problems with veteran suicides and homelessness,'' says Salter, who said that he saw the need for the private sector to become engaged in veterans programs to provide a support system which was lacking for them.
Easter Seals developed a Care Coordination model centered on highly skilled clinicians meeting one-on-one with service members and their families to address critical issues while building trust and working toward developing long-term self-sufficiency. Care Coordinators met the immediate presenting needs such as food, shelter, transportation and mental health intervention. Once a trusting relationship was established, Care Coordinators were then able to address deeper issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, sustainable employment, and long-term housing.
As Easter Seals Military & Veterans Services began to execute its mission, it became clear that more community assistance and fundraising was needed to provide adequate aid. Federal, local and national grants provided for the training and services of Care Coordinators. Yet, the need for additional funding for basic necessities such as food, clothing, housing, etc. was apparent. A task force comprised of business leaders was developed and Veterans Count was formed.
In 2014, a group of dedicated volunteers in the Lakes Region led by Cynthia Makris, Ken Lull and Tim Callahan gathered community leaders to get the ball rolling to launch a new chapter of Veterans Count. At the first meeting of the Veterans Count Lakes Region Chapter, Siddartha Sosa Rodriguez, an airman for the New Hampshire Air National Guard, spoke of the struggles he had reintegrating back into his community after returning from deployment to the Middle East in 2009.
Since connecting with Veterans Count he has secured a stable living environment, gotten married, completed his bachelor's degree in psychology and is working on his master's degree. He is also giving back to other veterans in his role as a Care Coordinator for Easter Seals Military & Veterans Services.
"It's a beautiful thing when the legacy of a WWII Marine is able to help his fellow veterans in New Hampshire today. I was honored to start the Peter Makris Memorial Run in 2007 to continue my father's spirit of giving back to his beloved community and fellow veterans. Starting a Lakes Region Chapter of Veterans Count made a lot of sense," said Makris. "There are so many giving and generous people living in the Lakes Region year round and seasonally who care deeply about our veterans and their needs.''
Yesterday the Lakes Region Chapter hosted the first Veterans Count Golf Tournament at Laconia Country Club. More than $65,000 had been raised in sponsor fees for what organizers hope will be an annual event, with $20,000 of that coming from the proceeds raised during Laconia Motorcycle Week's annual Peter Makris Run, which was started following Peter Makris' death earlier in 2007.
The tournament attracted 100 entries from all parts of New England, including former Boston Red Sox shortstop Rico Petrocelli of Needham, Mass, Bob Grappone of Grappone Auto Junction in Bow, Bob Lawton of Funspot and Milo Pike, the former president and owner of Pike Industries in Belmont.
The Laconia Police Department's Color Guard, made up of police officers Ben Black, Joseph Marquis and John Howe took part in opening ceremonies at Laconia Country Club.
All of the proceeds from the tournament will be used to help support the Veterans Count program.