Serve and Uplift: C to C, The Commitment to Community Podcast Series from Oswald
Welcome to this episode of C to C, featuring Becky Carlino, Director of Development, Volunteers of America Ohio and Indiana. We are fortunate to have supported and partnered with VOA Ohio & Indiana for many years now, including the organization’s annual Operation Backpack that provides critical school supplies for children in need. Becky and I had the chance to meet up outdoors on a beautiful, yet very windy, summer day at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Parma, Ohio.
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Schmitz: Hi it’s Christina and I’m back again with C to C. Becky, thanks for joining me. Would you mind introducing yourself and sharing where we are today?
Carlino: We’re in a great place! I’m Becky Carlino. I’m the director of development for Volunteers of America, Ohio and Indiana. It’s a two state charity with local ties right here in Cleveland and bringing it closer to home, we’re sitting in the Veteran’s Memorial Park here in Parma, honoring the veterans that we serve while we talk about it.
Schmitz: Definitely! Assuming that a lot of the audience here may have seen the Volunteers of America trucks, they may have donated from the home delivery, they may have visited a store. Tell us a little bit more, what does VOA do? Who do you serve? And what are some of the programs that are the most impactful in lives of the community?
Carlino: All programs are so impactful to me. In my view of our agency, in the community and everything we do, is about helping people reach their full potential. So whatever program it may be, whatever city it is, it could be in Cleveland, helping veterans reach their full potential. In Cincinnati, helping individuals coming out of the correction system, reaching their potential in achieving their dreams. It could be helping people through our thrift stores. They get discount shopping and life becomes affordable to them at a time when it’s not affordable…things like Operation Backpack, helping parents pay bills and giving kids school supplies.
So everything that we do has a goal that we’re helping individuals achieve what they need to do to reach their full potential.
Schmitz: What is your connection to this cause? I know that this is more than a job or career for you…what personally connect you to this?
Carlino: It’s a long list. I have 20 years in the nonprofit world and every road I’ve taken brought me to this seat and job of director of development. It’s not just a job for me. I know I’m helping people in the community connect to the veterans, for example, in Cleveland that need help and hope. I know that what we do together makes a difference for people. So for me, it really is calling to sit in the seat and really connect to the agency in our mission to help.
Schmitz: So what are some of the most critical needs. I know all needs are important from any walk of life, even clients you’re serving. But in today, 2021, what are those really critical needs?
Carlino: In simplest terms, the most critical need for any person – veteran, residential re-entry, homelessness – is they are coming to us at the darkest moment of their life. Their pride has taken a beating. They are scared. They’re afraid. They feel like they’ve failed. And they come to us looking for help. But they look for hope. They look for that spark of light that they can hold onto while they work to rebuild their lives. What is hope? I’m asked that a lot, right. What is it that when I make a gift or I donate?
How is that really helping? I was thinking about it the other day, and it is a case manager sitting in an office saying, what is it that you need to achieve? How can I help you get out of this dark point? So donations help that case manager do their job. I was thinking about our homeless veterans in the Sandusky area for homeless families, and it’s actually having a bed for children to feel safe at night. That is hope for the person coming into the program.
Schmitz: You mentioned Operation Backpack, so that’s a state wide and Indiana as well. That’s a program we’ve partnered on for so many years. It’s such a meaningful opportunity to be able to provide school children in need with their backpack and supplies. Can you tell me a little bit about Power of Hope?
Carlino: It’s funny. We call the event Power of Hope for all the reasons that I just mentioned. What is hope? How do I give hope to someone who’s lost and power of hopes exemplifying the difference that you can make? So it’s our once a year annual fundraiser. It’s a free event and you just come and listen and you get the opportunity to make the choice if you want to help. It’s not a decision we make for you. We present you with. This is what our community needs right now and ask you to join a movement to really help people thrive and reach their full potential.
Schmitz: In the past, some of the events that I’ve attended, you had actual clients tell their story and there’s never a dry eye in the house when that happens… What does this event look like for this year?
Carlino: Inside human services and social services agencies, the pandemic is still very real. We have clients that are not vaccinated. We have people that haven’t had access to vaccines, so we stayed virtual. We wanted to keep everybody safe. One more year, we’re briefing ourselves for numbers to rise in homelessness and unemployment as the climate around us continues to change. So the pandemic is very real. Staying virtual, though, has had its benefits. The events were at one point in Columbus, Cleveland, Sandusky and Indianapolis.
But going virtual, we can reach into the Toledo community. We can reach into the Cincinnati community and really bring more people together to really change lives. If that’s their personal goal. Being virtual for us is really wonderful this year.
Schmitz: How can individuals or companies or other organizations and groups, what’s the best way to give back? Certainly, certainly more donations. But are there volunteer opportunities where you can really get one-on-one with your mission?
Carlino: So, yes, Power and Hope is an interesting one. If you want to support veterans in your community throughout the state, you can enroll as a host to invite people to Power of Hope. That is sending an email or a phone call. We have people that volunteer with us that their dad was a veteran. Their family is veterans, military for all intents and purposes. They want to spread the word to help veterans.
We have people that are really I want to help; women that are fighting the disease of addiction and trying to make a come back and to keep their children with them…Volunteering, painting the walls and the fences. We’re going to need to. But until we get to a point where it’s safe to have people back in our facilities, this is the best way to help you.
Schmitz: From a personal standpoint, is there a certain memory or experience that you’ve had during the time here? How long have you been with VOA?
Carlino: I’ve been with Volunteers America. I just turned seven. I’ve moved out of toddler…I had so many poignant moments. I know. Christina, you’ve seen some of the people that have spoken at the events. The relationship is deep and personal. When we put them up at a podium to tell their story, you feel that story in a way that is really hard to explain for me. When I started, they told me I would have a moment where I connect. And my moment was on my third day, and I was in one of our veteran’s programs.
And when I started seven years ago, I said, Veterans or World War II old Vietnam guys, they’re just old dudes, old women and old dudes. When I walked into the room and there’s no disrespect, there was a young guy sitting on a bench in one of our programs, and I didn’t know he was young. He had his baseball cap pulled down over his face, and I was just taking it all in. On day three, coming into a human service charity, it’s overwhelming. He picked his head up and his hands were shaking and he couldn’t have been more than 22, 23 years old.
And it was my moment. It was my purpose. And it was, veterans are not just older guys, or there are people that come out of the military and need structure. They need someone to say, hey, I know you joined when you’re 18, but here’s a path out of addiction. Here’s a path out of homelessness or unemployment will help you get a job using your skills from the military. So I connected. Then I met homeless families out of some of our other programs, and mothers that want to keep their baby with them while they go through recovery.
Every day there’s another impact for me and then the donors. When I get to work with someone, even as well, when I get to work with you, when you make a gift and you support Operation Backpack, there’s a sense of pride that you have that I experience and share in that moment of joy. So it’s all such an incredible job. I love my job.
Schmitz: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. We’re getting almost close to time here, but to have this conversation and not talk about the mental health aspect of everything that the world has experienced. But more specifically at your organization and overcoming stigmas associated that your clients are experiencing. Is there anything you want to share about that, or maybe specific programs for people that may use their services?
Carlino: Mental health is certainly cruising up to the top of every social service organizations list. It is the predominant reason as we peel back the layers of homelessness or unemployment, we see that rising to the top as a hindrance for something that is stopping that person from reaching their full potential for us. At VOA national we have our national office offers programs in moral injury and arrest program because we’ve seen mental health come up in. Our staff come up in our veteran clients with PTSD getting isolated from a group of people they needed to thrive.
So for us as an agency, it’s become a dominant force to help adjust mental health issues in whatever program, behavioral therapy, treating PTSD, treating moral injury, things like that and acknowledging that there’s more out there. We’ve all seen police officers and, you know, medical workers in case managers for us driving from the program to a hotel to give a veteran that’s been isolated for 24 hours his meal. So it’s been taxing on everyone as we go through. So it’s important to us.
Schmitz: Absolutely. We definitely want to end this on a positive. We appreciate all that you do and your team members too. I don’t want to leave them out. You have an incredible team across all of your locations that you had the opportunity to connect with in addition to taking part in events. What’s the best way to stay connected with your mission? With your news and programs?
Carlino: Well definitely find you, because you can connect people to us. But also I always tell people if you are interested our website is a great place to start because you can explore residential re-entry, behavioral health programs, veterans…our website, voaoh.org, But when you’re doing that, always choose your passion. If your passion is, I want to help homelessness. We’re a great place to start. If your passion is employment, we’re a good place to start. So choose your passion. Reach out to me or you and we’ll get you on your way to achieve your philanthropic goals.
Schmitz: Well, thank you. Thanks so much for chatting today on this beautiful day.
This transcript has been edited for clarity and web formatting.
Introducing the C to C podcast, an oscast by Oswald production
Commitment to Community is a core value of Oswald; it’s the foundation of who we are and the purpose behind all we do. The CtoC podcast provides a platform for nonprofit partners to share their stories and discuss the critical issues facing their clients. Our goal: create a halo effect of service and support, inspiring our audiences to align with causes that speak to them and take action in their companies and communities.
Hosted by Christina Capadona-Schmitz, VP and director of marketing communications and leader for community engagement, this podcast series features in-depth interviews and highlights the good works happening throughout our communities.