Veterans Path to Hope lends a hand with finding jobs, housing and more

Veterans coming home after serving their country don't always get the respect they deserve. Oftentimes, they return to unemployment, homelessness and despair.

The volunteers at Veterans Path to Hope in Crystal Lake know this all too well.

"Veterans sometimes walk the civilian world feeling like a different species. At VPH, they are welcomed by those who speak their language and share their experiences," said Laura Franz, executive director of Veterans Path to Hope, in an email.

"The connections they build help in all aspects of their lives and they are often moved to turn around and offer that same hand up to others."

This nonprofit offers a variety of programs to help veterans get back on their feet, from peer support and counseling to basic needs like housing, food and jobs. These services don't just help veterans live in the moment, but give them hope for a better future.

"'I wouldn't be alive if it weren't for this agency.' This is the most profound impact, chipping away at the terrible veteran suicide rate of 22 per day," Franz said. "Assisting veterans and their families in returning to the path they want with confidence and hope is an underlying goal of all programs and the best possible impact."

Many who have been helped come back to lead programs themselves, paying it forward.

"My best days are when I hear about (or if I'm lucky, see) the transformation of a veteran who came to us hopeless and now walks with confidence and purpose again," Franz said. "There is a lightness in their face, their voice, their movements that speaks to a return of hope. This is what inspires all of us."

To help keep the programs going, Veterans Path to Hope will host its annual VPH Motorcycle Run July 8. This event will kick off at 9 a.m. with registration and leave from Woodstock Harley-Davidson, 2235 S. Eastwood Drive, at 10:30 a.m.

Volunteers with Veterans Path to Hope do a home renovation for a Rockford veteran. courtesy of Veteran Path to Hope

It ends with a party at Niko's Red Mill in Woodstock with raffle prizes, 50/50 raffle, vendors, and live music from the band Shooter.

Franz and Jennifer Kipp, director of Resource Development, discuss Veterans Path to Hope and its upcoming fundraiser.

Q: What is Veterans Path to Hope? Give a brief overview of what the organization does and who you serve.

A: Veterans Path to Hope provides veterans in need and their families the services needed to experience hope and achieve success.

We do this by offering eight programs ranging from basic needs such as housing, furniture, food, and employment to programs that focus on connecting veterans to others: veteran peer support, outdoor programming, and counseling.

Our services are provided by veterans and those connected to veterans, so there is an underlying compassion and understanding the minute someone calls, writes, or walks in the door seeking assistance. VPH is part of a circle of care involving and surrounding the veteran community, offering a hand up that is often then reciprocated.

Q: How many people per year do you serve?

A: We serve over 1,400 veteran households per year across Northern Illinois.

Q: What are some of your programs?

A: New Horizons, a 20-bed transitional living shelter for homeless veterans.

• Employment assistance to help homeless vets gain employment.

• Housing assistance for veterans who are homeless or about to be.

• Drop-in resource center that provides support, a food pantry, and counseling.

• Veteran Community Action Team, delivering furniture/food/household items.

• Outdoors Program, offering outdoor activities, video gaming nights, and other experiential recreation with veterans and their families.

• Legacy Corps for Veterans and Military Families, caregiver respite for veterans and military families.

• Veterans Supportive Housing for those veterans appreciating longer-term assistance.

Veterans Path to Hope offers an Outdoors Program, which includes outdoor activities, video gaming nights, and other experiential recreation with veterans and their families. courtesy of Veterans Path to Hope

The agency offers a drive-through food pantry once per month, generally the third Thursday, at 3 p.m. in the parking lot of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Crystal Lake.

The agency food pantry, which includes pet supplies and hygiene supplies, is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon.

The office is open for walk-ins, calls and emails during those hours. Veterans and families of veterans are welcome!

The Outdoors Program offers an expanding array of activities for veterans - fishing, weekend retreats, hiking, yoga, video gaming nights, kayaking, etc. Watch our website for more,

Q: Where do the majority of your funds come from to support your work?

A: The agency receives a multitude of grants, including federal, state, county, corporate, and family foundations. The grants, by design, do not cover the full cost of offering the programming and so additional fundraising in the form of donation requests and fundraising events are ongoing to cover the gaps.

Q: Tell us about the fourth annual VPH Motorcycle Run.

A: The 2023 Motorcycle Run is July 8. Registration begins at 9 a.m. at Woodstock Harley-Davidson, 2235 S. Eastwood Drive. Kickstands up at 10:30 a.m.

Tickets are $30 per bike the day of the ride or register in advance to save $5 at

This a guided tour of the back roads of northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. The event ends with a party at Niko's Red Mill Tavern, where there will be vendors, raffles and live music.

Walmart clientele during a donation drive. Anyone can volunteer, donate or fundraise for Veterans Path to Hope. courtesy of Veterans Path to Hope

Q: How can readers help Veterans Path to Hope?

A: Spread awareness: Share information about Veterans Path to Hope with your friends, family and social networks. Talk about our mission and the work we do to support veterans in need.

Volunteer: Reach out to VPH and inquire about volunteer opportunities. We may have various roles available, such as assisting with fundraising events, administrative tasks or even landscape expertise. Your time and skills can make a significant difference.

Donate: Financial contributions are vital for nonprofits like VPH to continue our work effectively. Consider making a donation to support our programs and initiatives.

Visit our website or Facebook page to find out how to donate securely and learn about any specific projects or events we have coming up.

Fundraise: Organize a fundraising event to support VPH. This could involve hosting a charity run, creating an online crowdfunding campaign, hosting a bingo/trivia night or symbolic gestures like not shaving for a month. Encourage your friends, family and colleagues to participate and contribute.

Offer resources or services: If you have specific skills or resources that could be beneficial to VPH, consider offering them as an in-kind donation. This could include pro bono services, professional expertise, or necessary supplies such as food items, especially protein.

Q: What else would you like readers to know?

A: Veterans Path to Hope was started in 1996 by Alan Belcher, a Vietnam veteran who saw the suffering of the veterans around him and made it his mission to make a difference. Through the years, the agency has expanded geography and services to match the needs of the veteran community. We welcome visitors, contributors, and those in need of a hand up!

Veterans Path to Hope

What: 2023 Motorcycle Run

When: July 8; registration begins at 9 a.m., kickstands up at 10:30 a.m.

Where: Starts at Woodstock Harley-Davidson, 2235 S. Eastwood Drive.

Cost: $30 per bike the day of the ride; $25 in advance at

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