"Veterans receive aid from new organization."
The Coolidge Examiner
Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 1:00 am

Open Hand Outreach program

Diann Lesueur is the president of the Open Hand Outreach program.

Diann Lesueur sees a problem in Pinal County that must be fixed. Now she just needs enough help to get the job done.

A few weeks ago, a young man was in need of help. He told Lesueur, the president of Open Hands Outreach Program (OHOP), and fellow volunteer Tom Hunt that he had just lost his home, and he could use some food to provide for his family as they figure out where they are going to go.

“He said it was just temporary, just a little bump in the road,” Lesueur said. “He wasn’t asking for anything long term, just a little help to get them going.”

The man they were helping was a member of the Wounded Warriors.

Though funds were and continue to be very limited, Lesueur and Hunt were able to provide him with a night of shelter, some food and diapers for the baby.

Lesueur sees cases like these too often. A registered nurse and lifelong member of the VFW Auxiliary, she knows how much veterans suffer after returning home from war.

“Many come home with injuries that are seen and unseen, with jobs that no longer exist,” Lesueur said. “The suicide rate among young veterans has more than doubled in the past 10 years, and veterans under 30 are twice as likely to become homeless than non-veterans of the same age group. That’s shocking and worrisome.”

That is why, in 2012, she formed OHOP, a nonprofit dedicated to helping any veteran in need, though the primary focus is going to be to help those in Pinal County. There are an estimated 33,000 veterans in the county, with 3,500 located in Coolidge and Florence alone.

“We have done a needs analysis study in this area, and we know that veterans are living under the poverty line, and there are some who are homeless,” Lesueur said. “We know that of the food boxes we have distributed, more than 15 percent have gone to veterans.”

With a massive wave of veterans coming home after the conclusion of the Iraq War, and the dwindling of the war in Afghanistan, Veteran Affairs is swamped, causing veterans to have to wait even longer to get the help they need.

“Sometimes they just need time and a little help for their healing process to begin,” Lesueur said.

But OHOP needs all the help it can get. The organization does not receive any government funding, because the government requirements are seen as too constrictive. As an example, OHOP has one lady on their call list who will provide diapers whenever she gets a call that they are needed to help the family of a veteran.

“We depend on the donations of individuals and groups,” Lesueur said. “As the numbers of veterans increase, so do our goals. We will come wherever you ask us to so we can further help these veterans. This will be a coordinated effort to help those in need.”

In a presentation given in front of Coolidge City Council, Lesueur was not the only one who had to fight back tears, with members of the audience and council alike getting emotional as she made her plea for help.

“It’s organizations like yours that are really dedicated to helping veterans that make a difference,” said councilmember and Col. Rick Lister. “We were very privileged in having your assistance in distributing food.”

Most veterans do not seek the help they need or they are allowed to get. They either do not know the VA can provide them with services, or are not able to ask.

“The veterans that seek help does not even scratch the surface of those in need, because there are so many who do not come out to seek help by applying to the VA for benefits that they are entitled to,” Lesueur said. “If a veteran is willing to pay the price of their life to serve our country for our freedom, the least we can do is help them get the veterans these benefits.”

Item donations such as blankets, clothing and food can be brought to the Book Cellar at 218 W. Central Ave. in Coolidge. Monetary donations can be made through the Great Western Bank on 635 N. Arizona Blvd. by telling the teller the donation is to be made in the name of the Open Hand OUtreach Program.

As is the case with most charities, supplies are down after the holiday season, with the amount of food reaching low levels.

“We will work with open hands to any verified veteran with needs,” Lesueur said. “Some organizations ask for more proof than we do, but all we ask is that they show us their VA card. “I’m sorry, but there is no excuse for a veteran to be homeless. It is a disgrace.”