While driving veterans to the methadone clinic, Thomas Burlowski uses his time to reach out to those who are trying to kick drug addiction.
“There is one guy in particular that I pick up in the morning to take to the clinic and I try to steer him in the right direction,” said Burlowski. “Most of the guys I drive are homeless veterans and most of them are coming off a drug and alcohol program, but some are not. I just like to use this time to share my faith with them, and help them look on the bright side of things and encourage them for their life.”
Burlowski began volunteering in June, and typically takes veterans to and from the Vets Place Central on 33rd and Wells streets to the VA on National Avenue one day per week. He is one of approximately 20 volunteers for the RSVP Volunteers for Veterans program, which operates through Interfaith Older Adult Programs.
“After I retired last fall, my wife Goldie and I took some trips, and after we got back, I had some free time and wanted to do something to help others,” he said. “I got a mailer from Interfaith about the RSVP program and it sounded good to be able to help veterans.”
As an Army veteran from the Vietnam era, Burlowski, 64, understands the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of veterans, especially those who have served on the front lines.
“I only took advantage of veterans’ services, such as the VA, one time because when I was there I saw so many people that needed it more than I did,” he explained. “I didn’t go back to it because there were people who were missing arms and legs, and were in much worse shape than me. I just like to help because these people have given so much to serve our country and I can relate to them very well.”
Marie Honel is the volunteer program coordinator for Interfaith Older Adult Programs serving veterans in the Milwaukee area. The program was started to support existing nonprofit organizations in Milwaukee County that provide services to veterans and their families.
“We have over 55,000 veterans of all ages in the Milwaukee area who face challenges such as unemployment, mental and physical issues and homelessness,” she said of the one-year-old program. “We are working with six partner agencies already serving the vets, and they have asked us to find volunteers with the vets they are servicing.”
Volunteers are 55 and older, and can help veterans by delivering meals, driving them to medical appointments, visiting the homebound, providing academic tutoring, employment and training, navigating benefits, and providing caregiver support.
Volunteers for the Veterans program and collaborating organizations’ staff members. After training, RSVP members decide how they can best serve.
Volunteers, are needed for daily, weekly, weekend or one-time events, and can assist RSVP for Veterans through the following partnering organizations:
- Center for Veterans Issues
- Disabled American Veterans
- Milwaukee Homeless Veterans
- Milwaukee Homeless Veterans
- VA Volunteer Services
The inspiration and life changing stories she has heard since she began as volunteer program coordinator five months ago, has been rewarding for Honel.
“I often wonder if these veterans would receive service if this program didn’t exist,” she said. “Someone told me about a needy veteran receiving a can of soup, and the veteran replied that he would love the can of soup, but he didn’t own a can opener. We often take for granted all that we have and would never think of worrying that we did not have a can opener. I am so inspired by the stories and the volunteers who can honestly say, ‘Wow, I made a difference for this person.’ I like being part of that.”
Tom Zychowicz has practically made volunteering a full-time job since 2002. After retiring in 1998 from Briggs and Stratton, he did contract work until 2002. From volunteering at the Milwaukee Public Museum, serving with the Boy Scouts of America, to tutoring through Interfaith Programs for Older Adults at Fairview School, the 73-year-old has reached out whenever he saw a need.
“Just after my retirement, I tried to stay home and help my wife Kathleen with housework and projects around the house, but I just got in the way,” he said, laughing. “So, I just decided to get out of the house and do something for others.”
In the mornings, Zychowicz tutors fifth-grade students in reading, and then several afternoons a week, he volunteers at the Veterans Center, answering the phone, taking messages regarding the donation of furniture and household goods for veterans moving into new housing.
“If we have deliveries that will need help, I take the messages and pass them on,” he said. “It is a wonderful organization. They will help homeless veterans find housing and furnish their entire home with furniture, clothes and food – all free of charge.”
On weekends, Zychowicz ushers at his parish, St. Aloysius, West Allis, during the 10 a.m. Mass, and he’s served several terms on the parish council.
“I really love all of the volunteer work I do, and I feel like I am serving God by helping people,” he said. “I don’t know; I just like helping people and being productive. When I help out, I think I am helped as much as I help them. It is a wonderful experience.”