Jon Locke can relate to the stories he has heard from veterans who struggle with the transition to civilian life.
“When I got out, I had a lot of rage and anger issues associated with post-traumatic stress disorder,” the Carlisle native said. “I went to the VA looking for help, but they just kept telling me that I was stressed.”
It took some time for Locke to find what he needed to cope with the memory of one deployment to Afghanistan and three deployments to Iraq in less than six years. A 1997 Carlisle High School graduate, he enlisted in the Army that summer and retired a decade later as a staff sergeant in the military police.
Now on disability, Locke volunteers full-time as the founder and chief executive officer of Operation Veterans’ Hope, a nonprofit organization he started in January 2016. Since November, the charity has operated a thrift shop on the first floor of the building at 7 N. Baltimore Ave., in Mount Holly Springs.
The shop is the residence and workplace of two homeless veterans who put in up to 40 hours a week and receive a regular stipend based on what is sold, minus utilities. “They learn important job skills,” Locke said. “It trains them in customer service.”
Known as Work2Stay, the program includes not only the shop but also a bunk room for the veterans to sleep, a day room for them to relax and cook and a fully equipped bathroom and shower. There is even a stationary bike for them to use to exercise.
The shop is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with merchandise that includes clothing, jewelry, books, toys, puzzles and knick-knacks. The items are donated and can be purchased with cash donations based on what the customer wants to give.
“We do go through to determine a value that is reasonable,” Locke said. “We inform them on what we are about when they come in. I want people to feel like they are contributing.
“The community is great,” said Locke, a Mount Holly Springs resident. “One of the churches gives us food every month, which is enough for the veterans we have. Plus a lot of the customers bring in meals and homemade bread.”
The program has enough space for two more homeless veterans, though one of those slots could be occupied shortly. The goal is to not only provide job skills to veterans but also the opportunity for them to screen through the donated goods for necessities.
The number of hours they put in at the shop depends on their employment status. If the veteran is unemployed, they can put in 40 hours over a five-day week. If they obtain a part-time job, their store hours would be adjusted down with further changes being made if they obtain a full-time job.
One goal of Operation Veterans’ Hope is to raise enough money to purchase the building so that the store could be expanded to the entire first floor and the second floor could be converted into housing for homeless veterans, Locke said. The current owner is allowing the charity to use the first floor rent free.
Another goal is to find donors willing to cover utilities so that all the proceeds from sales could be channeled to the homeless veterans enrolled in the program, Locke said.
“We eventually want to be able to help veterans who are on the verge of becoming homeless. If they need things like furniture, they can come in and talk to us and we can go over their financials.”
To qualify for help, each veteran must provide a copy of their discharge papers to verify their service in the military.
Fundraisers include an online auction planned for March 30 and a Dinner for a Cause the first and third Thursdays at the J&K Hi Hat Café in Mount Holly Springs, Locke said.
The original mission of Operation Veterans’ Hope was to help veterans coping with substance abuse issues. That mission changed in August 2017 when Locke learned of the plight of homeless veterans while trying to help a man find a stable residence. The man was a veteran who wanted more than a daily shelter but could not pursue affordable housing options.
For more information, visit www.operationveteranshope.org.
Students organizing walkouts in their high schools next week will also hold rallies in the community to draw attention to their pleas for action on gun control.
Students at Carlisle High School have organized a “Cease Fire” rally to be held at 2 p.m. Sunday on the steps of the Old Courthouse.
The following weekend on Sunday, March 18, Cumberland Valley students will hold their “Legislating for Peace” rally at 2 p.m., also on the square.
The two rallies book-end student walkouts at several area high schools that are planned for March 14, the one-month anniversary of the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Leaders from both schools said the community rallies have a similar message as the student walkouts, but are aimed at different audiences.
“The walkout is specifically for high school students to participate in, whereas the rally is more for the community,” said Michael Smith, who has been part of the team organizing the student walkout at Carlisle High School.
A statement posted to the Carlisle walkout’s Twitter account indicates that the students “understand and respect” the significance of the right to bear arms, but demand sensible gun control that does not also infringe upon Second Amendment rights.
“We want to speak up as students to promote sensible gun control to our lawmakers,” Smith said.
At the Sunday rally, student speakers will be joined by Carlisle Mayor Tim Scott, Borough Councilman Sean Crampsie and Alan Howe, Democratic candidate for the 10th Congressional District and Carlisle resident.
It was hard to sit back and watch what happened in Parkland, said Bailey Harper, a senior at Cumberland Valley High School. The size of the school seemed familiar, for example.
“For me watching it, it really hit home as being something like Cumberland Valley,” she said.
When the team working on the student walkout at Cumberland Valley saw how the Parkland community came together, they were inspired to reach out to spread awareness beyond the high school.
Harper said the March 18 rally will feature both student and community speakers. The initial plan was to walk through town as well, but that may change.
“It’s basically going to be as peaceful as possible. We’re not trying to disturb anyone. We’re just trying to raise awareness,” she said.
The Sunday afternoon rallies and the student walkouts come in advance of the March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C., on March 24. That march has been organized by survivors of the Parkland shooting, and has given rise to more than 400 sibling marches worldwide including a march in Harrisburg at noon on the Capitol steps.
The marches may be only the beginning of the students’ advocacy as Smith said they have been discussing the potential for creating a political action committee to continue working for gun control measures.
“We don’t want this to end,” he said.
Harper agreed, saying that the changes they are demanding will take time to enact. In the meantime, the students are also looking for ways to help.
“We all know that it’s not going to change after one march. We’re starting to look into fundraising to help communities who are facing this tragedy or have had to face it,” she said.
Ask/Answered is a weekly feature for reader-submitted questions. Follow the blog online at www.cumberlink.com:
Where does the money come from for sexual harassment settlements against state lawmakers?
In the midst of the Me Too movement, it came to light that members of the Pennsylvania Legislature had used government funds to settle allegations of sexual harassment and keep those claims quiet.
In one instance, Rep. Thomas Caltagirone, D-Berks County, allegedly paid nearly $250,000 to a legislative staffer to settle a sexual harassment claim made against him, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
According to the Post-Gazette, the money for that claim came from the state Employee Liability Self-Insurance Program and was processed by the state Bureau of Risk and Insurance Management.
BRIM manages the state’s self-insurance plan and contracts with third-party insurance companies for the state, meaning it handles a fund of money used to pay claims and lawsuits against the state.
This money is used to pay for things such as damages to state-owned property that wouldn’t be covered under other insurance programs, as well lawsuit settlements and tort claims filed against the state or one of its employees, according to the BRIM website.
A sexual harassment claim could fall under one of these categories.
BRIM is part of the Pennsylvania Department of General Services.
The Department of General Services received a roughly $1.3 million allocation in the state’s 2017-18 general fund budget for “excess insurance coverage” and roughly $53 million for “general government operations.”
Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-Delaware County, has introduced a bill aimed at stopping taxpayer funded payments for settlements of sexual harassment claims against Legislature members.
House Bill 1965, among other provisions, would bar nondisclosure agreements, which can effectively hide the identity of people accused of sexual harassment who have made a financial payment to the victim.
The bill also prohibits taxpayer funds to be used toward settlements.
Krueger-Braneky’s bill was sent to the House Labor and Industry Committee in January and has not been brought up for a vote.
Gov. Tom Wolf has also announced he would take steps to prevent sexual harassment claims from being paid for from the state insurance funds.
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Women’s History Month is as much a time to look to the future as it is to celebrate the past for the YWCA of Carlisle as it prepares to unveil its Girls Empowerment Photography Project.
The portraits in the project depict area girls in a number of male-dominated careers. A reception and exhibition for the project is planned for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday at the YWCA of Carlisle, 301 G St.
“We’re looking forward to creating the next chapter of history, and we feel this project does that,” said Robin Scaer, executive director of the YWCA.
The girls featured in the photos will appear as welders, engineers, construction workers, physicians, surgeons, lawyers, accountants, investment brokers, computer engineers, chefs, scientists, professors, judges, mathematicians, professional athletes, law enforcement officers, military officers, entrepreneurs, EMTs, paramedics, pilots and politicians — including the president.
“That’s not to say there aren’t women currently in these fields, but they certainly aren’t the majority,” Scaer said.
The YWCA originally worked with Ginny Boynton on the project. Erin McCombie of EGM Photography and Mary Ramirez of Mary Ramirez Photography also joined the effort.
“These photographers and our staff made them feel so good about themselves, and I think that comes out in these pictures,” Scaer said.
The project gives girls in the YWCA’s GirlPower! and LEAD programs the opportunity to showcase themselves in careers that have been, and continue to be, dominated by men.
Scaer said the project does not take away from other, more traditionally female-dominated careers that girls might want to pursue. The project is to support those careers and positions in which women are not the majority, and helping them to feel the confidence to follow their chosen career path.
It’s also vital to have systems in place to provide the access and capacity to make them successful in following that choice, she said.
“It’s one thing for people to have a dream. It’s very much another thing to be able to follow that path,” Scaer said.
Girls participating in the photo shoot chose which career path they wanted to represent, and were outfitted with uniforms and props from local businesses. The same background was used for each photo with only the props and the message on the signboard changing to reflect the career depicted.
Throughout the weekend photo shoot, the girls were interviewed for quotes that will be featured in the exhibit, Scaer said. The quotes from those interviews explore their motivation and self-image as well as their feelings on portraying a certain career and the things youths today want to, and should be, doing.
Though the exhibit is being created as part of Women’s History Month, it does have a longer shelf life from future exhibition at the YWCA building to social media use to use in presentations at area schools.
“You can not help but look at these and just feel a sense of hope and encouragement, and pure joy for these girls and what they can be and what they should be,” Scaer said.