Boston -- Marines and sailors aboard the USS Oak Hill volunteered at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans while attending Boston’s 33rd annual Fourth of July Harborfest, July 3.
At the center, the Marines and sailors served the veterans their lunchtime meal while thanking them for their service, and then received a guided tour of the center by Stephen Cunniff, the director of community affairs, which included the rooms where the veterans stay, the information resource center and the veterans health clinic.
“We were there to serve those who served us,” said Navy Lt. Joe Robbins, the USS Oak Hill chaplain. “Many of them fought in Vietnam, some of them fought in the Korean War and now this is a chance to give back to those who defended our country.”
The center, which takes in more than 1,000 homeless veterans every year, houses nearly 350 veterans per night and has a staff of nearly 135 people.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the nation’s homeless veterans are predominantly male, with roughly eight percent being female. About 12 percent of the adult homeless populations are veterans and approximately 12,700 veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn were homeless in 2010, with an increase in young homeless veterans.
Andy McCawley, the shelter’s chief executive officer, said that the center places a strong priority on maintaining a safe and secure environment for every veteran along with promoting a successful future outside of the center by giving them resources to help them go back to school to earn degrees, giving them money management classes and setting them up with jobs both outside of and at the center.
While Marines and sailors were volunteering their time at the shelter, Marines and sailors also volunteered at the Boston Children’s Hospital and the Dana Faber Cancer Institute.
“Community relations events are so important because what we’re doing as sailors and Marines is giving back to the community. It’s an opportunity for them to have face time and intermingle with those veterans,” said Robbins.
Corporal Daisy Marrerocardoza, a motor transportation operator with Marine Wing Support Squadron 271, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, said community relations events are also important for another reason.
“They’re important because I think it makes them feel like they haven’t been forgotten,” said Marrerocardoza. “I think it makes them feel special and lets them know that we care about them.”
Both Robbins and Marrerocardoza agreed that volunteering for these events shows a different side of the military the public normally does not see.
“It shows we are a service organization. We are here to serve others and it’s important for people to see that, because sometimes the public gets a negative image of the military so this builds a positive image for us,” said Robbins.
“We’re not what people think we are,” said Marrerocardoza. “We have a soft side. We can and do take our time to give back to the public and make them see what kind of military we really are.”
With Harborfest coming close to an end, the Marines and sailors can still look forward to more public interaction during general public visiting aboard the ship, visiting the USS Constitution, the Sunset Concert and a performance by the Navy Band Northeast.