Volunteers of America provides poverty-stricken with life skills


Volunteers of America (VOA) has been a nonprofit organization for over a century now, but many haven’t heard of their services that focus on individual women, men and families. VOA’s Northern Nevada chapter offers services ranging from providing shelter to mental-health counseling.

“We have 27 units in our building where families can stay for six months, although the average is four,” said Sandy Isham, VOA community relations and development officer. “This is free housing, but parents have to follow the rules, be in compliance with work surge, and it can be intense. It is a program, not just a place to sleep.”

To be accepted into a VOA program, applicants must first apply to be put on a waiting list. Once in a program, it’s contingent that each person is looking, or working a job that is 20 hours per week. Isham said the organization believes that a shortage of affordable housing is a major contributor to homelessness.

“We deal with those in poverty and homelessness that range from infants to seniors,” Isham said. “We have programs that serve those with mental illness, substance abuse, job losses which serves situational poverty, however there is also generational poverty.”

Isham says in generational poverty, many are missing life skills not learned as a child; VOA tries to address those issues by offering classes about life skills, such as parenting, meal planning, budgeting and finances.

“These are all things that your mom or dad taught you growing up, and they are basic common sense sort of things that they need help realizing,” Isham said. “I’ve talked to one lady who grew up on her own in a rural area with her grandparents, who at one point didn’t provide any supervision or guidance, so she and her friend went and lived in a cave.”

Now, Isham said, this 50-year-old woman is in their restart program and learning skills she wasn’t taught during childhood.

“We will provide whatever service or connect them with whatever services they need in order to become self-sufficient and realize their own potential,” Isham said.

VOA also brings local churches to lead crock pot cooking classes. For those who spend their lives living and growing up in hotels, cooking isn’t typically an option because there is usually only a microwave or hot plate in the room. However, through these classes and providing each individual at the shelter with a crock pot, VOA gives people the ability to cook nutritious and affordable food.

“These types of things only happen with the help of our community,” Isham said.