Civic Warriors Episode 35 with Community Hope

Community Hope helps our veterans in a variety of ways including housing, mental health, and other services. From Community Hope, we speak with Executive Director, Carmine Deo and Development Director, Peggy Banko about their mission and the innovative services and programs that Community Hope offers to people with serious mental illness and homeless veterans and their families. They highlight some crucial service areas including women veterans, veterans suicide prevention and veterans homelessness. They share their annual statistics showing the huge impact and success they have had from their services and program. Listen to learn how you can help support Community Hope and our veterans!

Community Hope 24-hour Referral Hotline: 1-855-483-8466

Veteran Crisis Line: 1-888-273-8255 – a nationwide hotline that provides support to any veteran experiencing a crisis.


This podcast was transcribed through a third-party application. Please disregard any misrepresentations.

Brad Caruso (00:24):

Hey warriors. Welcome to today’s episode of civic warriors brought to you by Withum. I’m your host, Brad Caruso, the leader of Withum’s not-for-profit practice. We have two very special guests with us today. Carmine Deo and Peggy Banko from Community Hope New Jersey. Carmine is the executive director. Peggy is the director of development, and we are here today to talk to you about how Community Hope helps our veterans in a variety of ways, including with housing, mental health, and other services. I wanna start off by thanking our service men and women, especially those now in a time of conflict. And let you know that if you are listening and there’s a way that Community Hope can help you, that you have two very wonderful individuals you can reach out to and help you find services. It’s a challenging time that we’re in, you know, COVID post COVID and so any help that we can find and provide, we wanna offer that and, and appreciate Peggy and Carmine’s time today in sharing some of the ways that they’ve helped many individuals over the past several, several years and being a staple in their community. So Carine and Peggy, welcome to the show.

Peggy Banko (01:17):

Thanks Brad.

Carmine Deo (01:18):

Thank you, Brad. Great to be here.

Brad Caruso (01:21):

So Carmine, talk to us a little bit about how did you make your way to Community Hope?

Carmine Deo (01:25):

Well, that’s a great story, Brad, you know, I’ve been at Community Hope for 20 years and actually I started out at Community Hope a little bit before that my first job in the field was a counselor in one of our mental health residential programs. I was a great sort of first experience and then went out for a few years and learned a lot of other things in different places and got invited back to Community Hope as a director of our clinical programs and then have grown with the agency for the last 20 years. So my career of being committed to people with serious mental illness expanded when Community Hope started working with veterans and I had veteran family members, my father was an army veteran and then having that opportunity to serve veterans just has made me a tremendous ally for veterans. So I’m very committed to what we do and you know, I just think we have a great organization.

Brad Caruso (02:16):

Love it. And Peggy, how did you make your way over to Community Hope?

Peggy Banko (02:19):

Well, mine’s a little bit more circuitous than Carmines was when I graduate from college and graduate school, I really wanted to be in corporate America, did that for about 10 years, had two wonderful children, wound up raising them for 10 years and got an opportunity to be a teacher in their school. So I went back to school, got my teaching certification and taught there for a number of years and it was great, but kind of ran its course. So I retired and retired for two years. Did a lot of volunteer work, a lot of fundraising for schools and my kids’ schools. And then one of the Community Hope board members called me because they were looking for a development director and said, I think you’d kind of be good at this. We’ve been friends for years. So I looked at the job description said, what have I got to lose?

Peggy Banko (03:03):

Let me go take a look. And three years later here I am and don’t regret it at all and feel like it’s a great opportunity for me to almost marry both of my worlds, the corporate world and the volunteer school world that I was in for so many years doing fundraising. And it turns out that my daughter graduated from college and became active duty. She’s a Naval nurse. So it does hold a very special place in my heart to make sure that our veterans are taken care of. And those that need help can find a resource to get it. Cuz one day she will be a veteran and then just raising money for such a great cause every single day is just so fulfilling. I’m very grateful for the opportunity Community Hope gave me.

Brad Caruso (03:44):

That’s awesome. Yeah. And thank you to your daughter for her service. I think that’s phenomenal. And especially now the last 20 years have been interesting for those that have served one of my best friends and his wife are both west point graduates. They both served in Afghanistan. They both had significant careers are still active duty. I know how much that has an impact and I know how necessary and how important the help that you provide to individuals in your community is especially our veterans. I think a great place to start this discussion is maybe talk a little bit about Community Hope itself, share some details about some of the programs you have, maybe some of the innovative programs that you’ve developed that may be beneficial. And then we go from there.

Carmine Deo (04:17):

Yeah, that’s a great start, Brad. And you know, I really want to our mission often non-profits talk about being committed to their mission, but what we really take that very seriously here at Community Hope, obviously the work we do with people with serious mental illness and homeless veterans, I mean, you really have to be sort of thinking about the work that you do every day. And we really wanna highlight the fact that we’re connected with our community. And so our mission is to be a beacon of hope in our community, connecting individuals and families with life changing support, services and housing that foster the independence and resiliency to live their best lives. And from a service standpoint that translates into Community Hope, providing housing and support services to people with serious mental illness and homeless veterans and their families. You know, we’re so focused on doing that every day, those services and that housing translates into a number of different programs.

Carmine Deo (05:14):

On the mental health side, we have a transitional housing program that provides both 24 hour and daily support to people with mental illness. We have a permanent supportive housing program for those individuals as well, supportive housing. And then for veterans and veteran families, we have a transitional housing program on the grounds Alliance, VA hospital. Then we have a supportive services for veterans families program. It’s a homeless prevention and rapid rehousing program for veterans and their families. And then we’re really launching a focus on women veterans. And we are about to open a four unit permanent supportive housing location for women veterans in Morris county. And that’s a really important housing and service project for women veterans. And we’ve done a number of other program styles, but the focus is really about people’s recovery, whether it’s mental health, substance use almost all of the individuals that we work with our low income.

Carmine Deo (06:16):

So there’s always that economic and employment component and finally homelessness. And so particularly with veteran homelessness, you know, that’s what we do in our veteran’s work, but what strikes us most is the fact that, you know, no veteran should be homeless. I mean, that’s what we really believe. I think people believe that, but it’s really about the action of making that happen every day. That that’s about our mission and that’s about sort of moving forward in the work that we do and why we wanna bring more work, more people to support our work so that we can keep doing it. Veteran homelessness needs to end. And we’d like to be a part of that process obviously for many years, but we’d love to see it accelerate and work ourselves out of a job. So to speak.

Brad Caruso (07:02):

Yeah, very well said. And from my perspective, looking at the issues themselves as well, housing is one component of it, but probably where you have a very strong benefit is not only the housing component, but it’s everything that goes along with it. And also, I know you mentioned partners in the space that you work in. It definitely takes a village and there are a lot of things that go along with it. I served on a board of an organization coming home to Middlesex county and we worked strongly in a very similar mission. I knew nothing before I got there. And then there, I learned a lot about some of the issues that come up. I learned about some of the services that are out there, but how do you link all the services? How do you make sure you get them at the right time? You know, how do you deal with temporary housing versus permanent housing? There are a lot of different issues. How do you get healthcare the right way? The mental health services is huge, especially for those that are faced with PTSD or anxiety disorders or other things that are either as a result of their service or ancillary from that. Talk to us a little bit about program for women’s veterans. You don’t hear a lot of conversation about specific programs that are geared towards women. I think it’s very interesting that you’re doing that.

Carmine Deo (08:03):

The impetus of this is that we’ve done work for so many years with veterans. The transitional housing program is single men and women veterans. And when we started doing our supportive services for veterans families program and turning our focus really to veteran families, we realized that there was a component here of a growing number of women veterans who needed the services that we were providing. And so just from a number standpoint, there’s about 400,000 veterans living in New Jersey, 5% of the population in New Jersey and included in that is about 26,000 women veterans. Obviously that number is growing since the US government changed policies over the years. And so along with that comes the percentages of people who need the things that we provide or that the VA provides. And so the need for women veterans and women veterans, and their families is really around the things that we’ve been doing for a very long time and that I mentioned earlier, so it is mental health. It is substance use. It is housing, it is employment, some economic help. So all of those things, we now want to make specific services for women. And the reason why they need to be specific is somewhat obvious, right? I mean living situation, but the more important things maybe related to military sexual trauma, which is a higher rate obviously. And I think that the acknowledgement of military sexual trauma as an issue is also helping to bring out the prevalence of it more. And so we see the need to pay attention to that more and to the really designed services that help that need. And so there’s where we sort of decided we needed to do that. And we have, you know, a number of people on our board and especially one of our board members, Lucy Del Gaudio, who is really an advocate and proponent for the needs of women, veterans and women veterans really needs specific medical care and the VA needs to improve how they provide that.

Carmine Deo (09:59):

And even in general, in the community, when you talk about partners, we’ve really been trying to wrap partners together and get people together to want to help women veterans specifically. And we’ve reached out to local hospitals and healthcare providers to really, again, provide that comprehensive care that women veterans would need. It brings us back to the housing and support services that Community Hope provides and how important that is going forward. So that’s permanent supportive housing four unit home that I mentioned, it’s a shared home, that’ll be our first pilot program, but we have a strategic plan to improve and expand those services. So not just permanent supportive housing, but we’re considering transitional housing for women veterans and their families. So they can come off the street into a program that is designed for their needs. So when you talk about the homeless service system, not to be critical of it, but you know, sometimes it doesn’t meet people specific needs or, you know, you’re in a shelter with many different people in different situations.

Carmine Deo (11:04):

And so if we can design the transitional housing and then for people to move on to permanent supportive housing, that’s specific to women veteran needs. We know that that will make them successful and provide people with what they need. And we think that need’s gonna grow over time. I mean, we’ve had to sort of retool and redevelop our services over the years that we’ve been doing this. So our hope for veterans program, I think it’s like 19 or 20 years old and we are providing the most clinical care that we’ve ever provided over that time span. You know, there’s all these factors that make it so important for us to bring to veterans the services that they need to help them with all of those issues that we mentioned. But in many cases it’s gotta be an integrated approach that meets their needs. And that’s why we really partner so closely with the VA and so many local organizations and veteran service organizations, really to try to make sure that we are providing the help that’s needed in the community.

Carmine Deo (12:05):

And roughly a thousand veterans are homeless at any time in New Jersey that number’s gotten better year over year. So that it’s good. That means the work that we’re doing is great, but when you multiply that across the country, I mean, now we’re talking about tens of thousands of veterans homeless across the country. And some of the work that we do connected up with the VA or VA funded is available across the country. So I just wanted to make sure we mention that as well. We’re doing so much locally, but some of these programs are available across the country for homeless veterans. And when we talk later and give the numbers for crisis line, that’s a national number. So any veteran listening to this could access that.

Brad Caruso (12:43):

You know, Carmine, I think maybe good point to talk about, you know, what other data do you feel is, is just very, very relevant to drive the concept home about how relevant your services are. And in certain cases how dire the need is. Some things I think about are, you know, I, I saw some published statistics about how many individuals, not necessarily veteran related, but how many individuals committed suicide in 2021? I mean, it’s a staggering, scary number. What are some other data points that you see as you’re doing your research that you think are relevant?

Carmine Deo (13:10):

Yeah. I think you hit it right on with the veteran suicide rate. I’m mean when you hear that number, it’s just devastating. And when you talk about 22 veterans across the country, committing suicide every day, the need is really there for more focus services and outreach to veterans related to suicide prevention. It’s area that for Community Hope. We’ve always been so close to that issue because of the work that we do. I mean, obviously providing housing for veterans in our transitional housing program, it’s a congregate setting. Veterans are living together. So making sure that veterans stay safe while they’re with us. And then also when they leave our program, we have a follow up system to make sure that when veterans go out on their own, they have a connection still to us bringing veterans back as alumni and the veterans create the network themselves too, of having sort of a buddy system out there in the community when they leave a program or service.

Carmine Deo (14:10):

And that’s one of the times where veterans are most vulnerable. I mean, sometimes it’s veterans and their service and after they leave their service, what happens after that and what their civilian life becomes. But what we see is people who need things, uh, or services or housing, and we provide it, what does their life become after that? And sometimes the services make a connection for them. They have this recovery, but then when they go into the community, it’s again a struggle for them. And so it’s that, there’s so many points where really attending to what’s happening for particular veterans and families and friends are important in this work, right? So keeping veterans safe is really what we should be focusing on when it comes to veterans suicide. Let’s talk a little bit about what’s happening in New Jersey related to that. So New Jersey has a governor’s challenge. It just started middle of last year and the governor’s challenge to prevent suicide amongst service members, veterans, and their families, actually a national initiative and New Jersey has joined that initiative. So we’re one of a cohort of about eight states that started the process. Last year, there are 30 states that have this in place already. And then it’s a collaboration between the substance abuse and mental health services administration, or SAMSA and in the veteran’s administration. And what they do is take their expertise and engage community providers and all kinds of veteran services organizations from the communities across the country and bring them together to make a plan to affect veteran suicide in their local community. And there’s probably a couple of things that are really important. And each state gets to kind of plan around these different areas of focus, what will meet the needs of the veterans locally, the best.

Carmine Deo (16:00):

And so in New Jersey, we’re very proud as, as Community Hope to be a part of that New Jersey team and actually to lead the team on lethal means safety, but that’s one of three areas. So it’s really a focus on connectedness. So making sure that veterans stay connected, whether it’s, you know, through the VA system, through local veteran networks or organizations. But again, that point we talked about when veterans leave service, making sure that there’s a way for them to connect and stay connected in the community. It may not be the VA, but it has to be something where there’s a significant enough check in so that we know when veterans need help, that we could get there. And so the other big part of this initiative is lethal means safety that’s really around any lethal mean. People often think of firearms, which is a very important component, but any lead lethal mean meaning it could be medications or something like that.

Carmine Deo (16:57):

But I think the point here about lethal means is really getting information out to the community. So the things that we’re focusing on in New Jersey is educating families. How do we educate them about lethal means safety, New Jersey actually has a safe storage map. So a place where veterans can bring firearms and then connecting to other programs, you know, whether it’s a gun lock program or anything else that already exists, that also supports all of these approaches. I think bring that safety net that we need to reduce that number of veterans who take their lives. Any veteran life that’s lost to suicide is a tragedy. We have to get that number down and we have to provide veterans with the support that they need. You know, that’s what we do here at Community Hope, but we’re also happy to be part of the state’s initiative and really making that happen.

Brad Caruso (17:46):

How do you go about when you say outreach, staying connected on a very granular level, what does that look like for Community Hope and what does that look like really for like the general public? How do I help as a person?

Carmine Deo (17:58):

So certainly we have a outreach component to every one of our services and we have a line that people can call and what we’ll mention that number. But I think that what happens in the community, particularly when it comes to the things that we spoke about, you know, homeless veterans, how do you help a veteran? If you have a veteran who, you know, is having some difficulty, a couple of things that are really important, one is to start the conversation and help to reduce stigma around these areas. And it’s conventional wisdom now to talk about what it is so that it’s not stigmatized. So if someone, you know, is dealing with a mental health issue or a substance issue or a homelessness issue, starting that conversation in your local community and getting involved in your local community is really the best way to help the things that are available fior veterans, two things really there’s a veteran crisis line and that veteran crisis line is available across the country. And that number is 1-888-273-8255. And that really will tackle any veteran is having a crisis and provide the support to that veteran. And even as a national line can find the local resources that help. For Community Hope, the number of services that we have, we ask people to call our one 800 number and we’ll be able to provide assistance to them through community hope. And if it’s not a service that we have, we’ll refer people out to other services that will help them. So, you know, we do a little bit of both there, depending on what, what veterans or people with mental illness call about that number is 1-855-483-8466. And I know these numbers will be available in hard copy on the podcast. Some of the other things in the community that can help, as I mentioned earlier about the stigma part, but about learning about mental health or substance use is mental health first aid. It’s a great community approach to help people to understand mental illness and suicide prevention. And I would say for people in the community is also, I mean, there’s plenty of people in the, a community addressing all of these issues and you see it in many faith based organizations, you know, their work in all of these areas as well in the community. So people should get engaged there locally. And obviously supporting non-profits like Community Hope is also really important. There is one other thing that we wanted to talk about today, and that’s another new program that we’re launching and that’s the eviction diversion initiative.

Brad Caruso (20:37):

Peggy, do you wanna share a little information about the EDI program?

Peggy Banko (20:40):

So eviction diversion program is a program that the state has put together through the department of community affairs. And what it is is given the fact that the moratorium on evictions has been lifted effective the beginning part of this year, the state realizes that there is going to be a swarm of eviction cases that need to be addressed and potentially heard within the court system. So they put together the eviction diversion program as a way fir people who are facing eviction to be linked to services and assistance as they’re going through this process. So the state turned to the local non-profits, asked them to submit applications and to be a part of this new program, Community Hope is one of several organizations that is being funded to launch this new program, which is really just being launched in the beginning of March. And Community Hope is serving five vicinages, which are court systems, but we are in seven counties.

Peggy Banko (21:40):

So those counties that we are helping out in is Bergen, Hunterdon, Morris, Passaaic, Somerset, Sussex and Warren counties and Community Hope will have what we call resource navigators in each one of those counties that will be linked to the court system and work with the people facing each eviction and the court system itself to try and help people stay in their homes that they currently are in, help them figure out what they need to do in order to either save their current housing or find new housing. So we looked at as an opportunity for Community Hope because we do have expertise in providing housing for people. This is a way for us to reach people that are not necessarily veterans or people with serious mental illness, anybody who is facing the eviction and qualifies for this program can be helped by us. We think it’s a great opportunity for us to help even more people this year and a great way for us to serve the local communities, to keep people in their homes, because at the end of the day, housing is a basic need that everybody needs and everybody deserves. And we really believe that. So no matter what your situation feel, you know, we will help you either stay where you are or find you someplace where you can get suitable, safe, warm housing, which is just what’s critical for everyday life.

Brad Caruso (23:00):

I think it’s so necessary. And how many, from your perspective, individuals, do you feel are affected by the eviction moratorium? I imagine it’s a very, very high number directly effected by this as a lot of the federal benefits have started to lapse or go away as unemployment starts to try up and, you know, you can’t directly just go get a job in every case. But as we said before, not every job is for every person. And there are other things that go on outside of just not being able to get a job, to be able to pay your rent, to be able to live in a house.

Peggy Banko (23:28):

So we anticipate that it’s probably about 450 to 500 people that will probably be helping this year, but it also varies county to county. So as you can imagine, the more urban counties in the state of New Jersey are probably facing more of these cases than the more rural, suburban counties in New Jersey. So Essex county, which is one county that we’re not serving, we know has an inordinate amount of eviction cases that’s pending right now, but Bergen, which is one of the counties that we are helping out with does have a very large backlog of eviction cases pending . So it varies from county to county, but we anticipate helping somewhere around four to 500 people this year alone,

Carmine Deo (24:11):

The number that’s been projected by the different advocate organizations is the high thousands could reach 10,000 or more in New Jersey of people who are on the slate for the eviction hearings to start the thing that’s great about the EDI and the work that New Jersey’s doing to prevent the issue is that the part that we are doing as commuted hope is really a social service component. So all of the people that are slated for eviction in New Jersey have already been assigned an attorney. And so that sort of helps the legal process, but in order to divert people from being evicted, they need to get linked to the social service programs or income programs that will help them to either stay where they are or move to some other permanent housing place, as Peggy mentioned. And so the component of the court system working together with the social service system to really bring people what they want connects completely back to Community Hope’s mission, right?

Carmine Deo (25:11):

And so also a number of those people who are slated to be evicted fall into our other mission categories, right? So people with mental illness will be affected, veterans. And so this is why an expansion in this area for Community Hope in helping with the state homelessness preventing a homelessness problem, which is what I said in the beginning, right. We wanna do more to be preventing this. Brad, if I can add here, I know we’ve been talking about a lot of statistics today, but Peggy does a great job of focusing on our work year to year and our annual report for 2021 is really reflective of that. So I’m gonna run a couple stats, if you don’t mind. In 2021, we served more than a thousand people in all of our programs and services. So when you talked earlier about what’s that impact about 812 veterans and veteran family members achieved housing stability in the 15 counties in New Jersey, where we provide that homeless prevention and rapid rehouse program. I mentioned called supportive services for veterans families. About 153 veterans were saved from homelessness at our transitional housing program. In that year 305 individuals received the mental health services they needed in a intensive program for people with serious mental illness. So we’re not even talking a about outpatient or people that go to see a therapist. We’re talking about people that really need a higher intensive level of care. 99% of those individuals actually experience well days and well days is really being able to live independently and successfully in the community. And so to get numbers like 99%, that means people didn’t need a psychiatric hospital over that entire year. And that’s tremendous. And then of course, when I talked about our permanent affordable housing and our supporter housing style programs, we’ve had occupancy in our 66 units of permanent special needs, supportive housing throughout the year as well. So again, just trying to do what we can there, and I think we’ve had success. And I just wanted to mention that success.

Brad Caruso (27:15):

So Carmine and Peggy, it is so important that we heard the statistics that you just gave and, and just knowing how effective your services are. You know, publicly what I know about mental health services from my own experience is just how difficult it is to find valid, effective services. You may call 25 plus therapists to just be able to get someone to talk to you. And when you’re already going through a hard time, especially like you mentioned, you’re not dealing necessarily with individuals who need outpatient services. You’re dealing with individuals that are having a crisis. You’re dealing the individuals that have several potential challenges that they’re facing. I think it’s very important for the public to know how important those services are. And just to pivot a little bit to talk about that. Peggy talk a little bit about how Community Hope is helping, how the public can help you continue to provide those valid services.

Peggy Banko (28:03):

So just to give you a little background, Community Hope we have a 14 million dollar operational budget every year, we are funded through federal state county local grants, but that doesn’t pay all the bills. Unfortunately, so fundraising is an enormous part of Community Hope and what we do, we raise somewhere around 2 million plus every year. And I will tell you that of every dollar that we raise, 82 cents of every dollar goes directly to our services. So we have a very efficient process on making sure that the fundraising goes directly to the programs and very little goes to everything else that we do. So how people can get involved is we have multiple ways. Obviously we have a presence that is growing on our social media, so we can be found on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, we’re trying to resurrect our Twitter account, but it’s slow going at this time, but stay tuned.

Peggy Banko (28:59):

But we also have events and events really are the bread and butter and the fun part of Community Hope we have some great events. So our first event that’s coming up this year is in May. It’s on Sunday, May 15th, it’s vet Fest, 2022. It’s the third annual event of this kind that we’re holding. And it’s a food truck and music festival. We invite the community to come out, bring a lawn chair and enjoy some great music from the state’s local great cover bands, cuz we’ve got a ton of them in the state. And we have about a dozen food trucks. That’ll be on hand too. So it’s a really fun day. It’s gonna be held in Wayne, New Jersey at Dave Waks Memorial Park and it’ll be starting at noon and it’ll go, you know, probably until past dinner time. So come and go throughout the day.

Peggy Banko (29:45):

Our second events of the year will be our 21st annual flag day 5k and fun walks. Every dollar that’s donated for both vet Fest and the 5k go directly to our hope for veterans programs. And our 5k will be held on Thursday, June 16th at 7:00 PM. And that’s held on the campus of the VA medical center in Lions, New Jersey, which is in Bernards township, New Jersey. It’s a great event, it’s a sanctioned event. So it’s U S a TF sanctioned. It’s a great 5k course that is certified. So it’s officially timed. Anybody can come and run. They can walk. Doesn’t matter how fast you are. Doesn’t matter how slow you are, just come and enjoy the day and support the veterans. It’s just a great way to bring the community together in, in support of the veterans and the veterans in our program do come out and cheer you on and thank you for being a part of the event and supporting them.

Peggy Banko (30:38):

And then our signature event is the 26th annual sparkle of hope gala. This event will be held on Tuesday, November 15th. This year, we are presenting the sparkle of hope award to Joseph Papa, who is the chairman and CEO of FAUS health. Many years ago, 25 years ago, 26 years ago, Mr. Fred Hasen who is led many of New Jersey’s biggest and best pharmaceutical companies. He established the sparkle of hope and supportive Community Hope because he felt there was a need to bring together the pharmaceutical industry with the work that we do in supportive mental health. So he has helped us and still remains our founding chair. And he is a great guidance to us and a very well respected member of the pharmaceutical biotech industry. So the leaders of those industries come together. It’s a great social event for the industry, but it also brings the related industries together.

Peggy Banko (31:33):

So whether it’s legal or financial, we invite you to come and support Community Hope and honor the great work that the industry does and the great work that Community Hope does. So that’s gonna be held at the legacy castle. All the details can be found at Community Hope’s website, which is, but outside of our events, I invite people to take a look at our website, really see the great work that we do. Community Hope does accept gifts of all kinds, whether it be clothing donations, whether it be a monetary donations, stock donations, or create your own fundraiser. We actually had somebody take part in the Goggins challenge this past weekend and he completed it and he raised money for Community Hope. So there’s always ways to support the veterans and the people with mental illness that we serve. And then another great component of our fundraising efforts is our grant program.

Peggy Banko (32:23):

We raise hundred of thousands of dollars a year through private grants and corporate grants. And we really couldn’t do the work we do without those funders because they are significant to us and they are very dedicated to our mission and they believe in our mission as much as we do sometimes. So we are grateful to everybody who supports Community Hope and helping us raise, you know, the millions of dollars that we need to do the work we do and really carry out our mission. And it truly does have a great impact. We have hundreds of stories and we’ve changed so many people’s lives and we’ve given them the gift of hope. And that truly is what everybody needs.

Brad Caruso (32:56):

Yeah. I think hope is a key word it’s on obviously in your name, but also just understanding what that means and hearing you talk about it and creating that. It makes all the difference. It’s what drives people forward. Put one foot in front of the other, I think a great place to close up our conversation here is, you know, you mentioned you have a lot of personal stories, obviously you’ve affected the lives of thousands of individuals. You know, if you wanna share a personal story or an individual you’ve helped, I think it really drives the point home of everything that you’ve talked about, about your services, about how they help individuals.

Peggy Banko (33:26):

Sure. So which one to choose. I’ll, I’ll tell you the one that we featured this year in our annual report, it was a veteran who had been through our hope for veterans program, took a step away from it at one point and then came back to us again. But he really was determined. He’s a Marine Corps veteran and he’s young, but really suffered from PTSD and really struggled with his symptoms that he had from his PTSD. He also, you know, suffered from anxiety, panic disorder and major depressive disorder. And he really was having a hard time maintaining employment and really building an independent life. Once he left the Marine, despite his setbacks. And he was in our hope for veterans program during the pandemic, which also created another sense of isolation for the people in our program. Because like all of us, we were all isolated, but they were in our program and you know, really didn’t have the support of family that the rest of us had while we were in lockdown.

Peggy Banko (34:25):

But we kept on him. We kept, you know, encouraging him. We kept making sure that he, as well as all of our veterans were okay. And through our services that were provided to him, you know, as many times a week as he needed, he really started to recover. And despite feeling overwhelmed at times, he knew he had a persevere in order to transform his life. He worked every day because he had a goal in mind and he has a five year old son. He really didn’t have too much of a relationship with him, but that was his goal to build a relationship with him. He worked hard. He discharged from our program in the early part of 2021, he found a job. He really worked hard on his mental health. He worked hard on his physical health and he currently lives in New Jersey, still right by where his son lives.

Peggy Banko (35:13):

And through the help that we gave him, he was actually able to buy his first home. He bought it, he bought a four bedroom house in south Jersey and he says that the best part about it is, is that he and his son, you know, put the house together. His son has a bedroom in this house and he has shared custody and he and his son are now building their relationship and he couldn’t be happier. And they’re both thriving. He and his son are both thriving and we couldn’t be prouder of him because he really worked hard to transform his life and hope prevailed. He knew he could do it and he did it together we got him and his son back together. Again, I just love that story. I just feel like it’s just such a, a success story and he knows now what he has to do in order to maintain this.

Brad Caruso (35:56):

Okay. Thank you for sharing the, that Peggy. We appreciate it. Any closing thoughts, Carmine, anything else that you wanna share before we sign off

Carmine Deo (36:03):

A big thanks to you, Brad, and to Withum, I think this is a great podcast that you do. I think raising awareness about community issues and, you know, engaging people with what’s out there in the community, what needs to happen and how we can help to make things better in our world. It’s just a tremendous thing that you’re doing. We appreciate the time that you gave us today. And again, I would just encourage people to reduce that stigma and get involved in your communities. And let’s keep helping people with serious mental illness and homeless veterans.

Brad Caruso (36:35):

I love your message. Community Hope is doing a lot of good for the community for the world, for our veterans. A lot of what we touched on today, as you mentioned, is that community engagement conversation outreach, it’s creating hope for individuals. It’s giving them a resource that they may not otherwise be able to receive, check out Community Hope’s, website, and help those that can’t help themselves for anyone going through a mental health struggle. It’s very hard to help. It’s very hard to go through something alone. And so all we can do is be a community and Community Hope does that. And so we’re very thankful for the services you provide greatly appreciate your time, Peggy and Camrine today. And look forward to hearing more about the great work you’re doing and hopefully attend your vet Fest. It’ll be a fun day.

Carmine Deo (37:13):

It will be.

Peggy Banko (37:14):

It’s a great day. Don’t miss it.

Brad Caruso (37:16):

Yeah, we won’t. Thank you, Carmine. Thank you, Peggy.