More than 25 years removed from its humble beginnings, the Edward Kline Memorial Homeless Veterans Fund is ready to step into the philanthropic big leagues.
The nonprofit, which started out in 1993 as a homegrown effort by Edward Kline, a Las Vegas resident and World War II Army veteran, and a few friends to help other ex-service members in Nevada who were down on their luck, recently hired its first executive director with an eye toward expanding its reach and impact.
Now the new official, Stephanie Helms, and the fund’s six board of directors members, all veterans, want to make sure the community knows they’re ready to partner with other nonprofits, businesses and donors to help provide assistance directly to veterans who need a leg up.
“We needed someone to take the bull by the horns and basically present our case to organizations that we’re here,” said Board President Steve Seiden, an Army veteran. “The VA has a lot of shortfalls, and we’ve uncovered different areas (where there’s) just a greater need.”
The decision to increase the fund’s visibility came after board members saw an increase in the number of veterans struggling to meet basic needs like rent, security deposits, electricity, food or transportation.
Helms will set strategic plans for grant programs, community outreach and partnership development.
Making ‘a direct connection’
Helms, 48, comes from a military family and is a certified Nevada Veterans Advocate, trained to educate veterans and military members about benefits and other opportunities.
She began working for the Kline Veterans Fund, as the nonprofit is now known, as a volunteer three years ago and said she is excited to lead the organization in an effort she is passionate about.
“We have a direct connection to these veterans,” she said. “There is no red tape to go through, you get your security deposit.”
Getting help from the organization comes with few requirements other than the veterans must be Nevada residents and have been honorably discharged from the service.
The help is much appreciated by veterans like Dontae Shepherd.
He and his wife, Mary-Jo, recently spent eight months living in transitional housing at H.E.L.P. USA in Las Vegas before finally saving enough money for a Henderson apartment in October.
Because Dontae, a 36-year-old Air Force veteran, was in between jobs, he needed help with the $550 deposit.
The Kline fund stepped in and paid it.
And when Mary-Jo lost her job before Thanksgiving, the nonprofit paid their electric bill.
“It let us know that we still matter,” said Dontae. “… Without them, we’d be homeless. It’s a weight lifted off of us.”
The fund was started in 1993 under the Independence Day banner by Kline and a handful of fellow members of Jewish War Veterans Post 64 with an aim of giving direct support to veterans getting out of the service. Kline saw that veteran homelessness was on the rise and wanted to help them re-acclimate to civilian society.
And he and his buddies wanted to do that without wading through a lot of red tape. They doled out donations on an informal basis to anyone they heard about who needed help.
Fund goes official
The fund didn’t became a nonprofit until 2012, a year after Kline’s death. It is now largely funded by donations, with some grant assistance and sponsorships.
The group currently works in tandem with organizations such as U.S. Vets, The Shade Tree shelter and the Michael’s Angel Paws service dog training center.
The latter affiliation sprang from Helm’s desire to fund service dogs for veterans and their families. The fund is currently sponsoring two.
One of them is Rosa Falu-Carrion’s 3-year-old pit bull and Catahoula mix, Xena.
Her late husband, Army SPC Jose Vasquez Carrion, died in 2012 after being hospitalized. She said she was so traumatized by his death that she developed post-traumatic stress disorder.
When her previous service dog, Diamond, was retired while she was attending graduate school, Falu-Carrion couldn’t afford the training for Xena.
That’s when the Kline fund stepped in to foot the bill.
“The wonderful part of having a service dog is this: They bring you back your dignity,” she said. “It was bare bones to get through it, and it was a blessing.”
Helms said that most of the fund’s clients just need a little help to get by, and that less than 3 percent of the 260 people that were helped last year come back for more.
While outreach through poppy drives, fundraisers and networking to expand and grow existing programs is part of the plan, Helms also is implementing new initiatives.
The fund is offering its first scholarship this year, named after the late Navy veteran Sidney Blum. His wife, Esther, will present the $1,000 scholarship in May to one veteran-dependent Clark County high school graduate.
“All the money we collect goes right back to veterans,” Helms said. “These people fought not only for their country, but for all of us, and we absolutely owe them a debt of gratitude.”