Local businesses team with kids to help veterans

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published November 13, 2013

 
Paul and Jack Howe, 4 and 7 years old, respectively, along with Giovanni Mangino, 7, and Brynn Rattray, 10, show off some of the artwork they had been drawing at Ram’s Horn in St. Clair Shores as part of a project to raise money for Veterans Returning Home. The adults include Creative Kid Designs Community Liaison Holly Fujishige, Veterans Returning Home founder Sandy Bower, and Creative Kid Designs founder Jerry Tsatsos.

Paul and Jack Howe, 4 and 7 years old, respectively, along with Giovanni Mangino, 7, and Brynn Rattray, 10, show off some of the artwork they had been drawing at Ram’s Horn in St. Clair Shores as part of a project to raise money for Veterans Returning Home. The adults include Creative Kid Designs Community Liaison Holly Fujishige, Veterans Returning Home founder Sandy Bower, and Creative Kid Designs founder Jerry Tsatsos.

Photo by Kevin Bunch

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — Two local businesses teamed up to help out the Roseville-based Vets Returning Home organization the week of Nov. 4, getting assistance from the minds of children.

The Ram’s Horn restaurant in St. Clair Shores had special placemats for kids to draw on while waiting for their food. Creative Kid Design used its own online setup to put that artwork on a variety of products that the children’s parents could then purchase for themselves, with 30 percent of the money going to Vets Returning Home.

According to Jerry Tsatsos, the founder of Creative Kid Design, he was interested in helping the veterans group after it took over the building that the Solid Ground homeless shelter previously occupied in Roseville. As he and his company’s community liaison, Holly Fujishige, both sat on the shelter’s board before the building changed hands, he was interested in helping out.

Tsatsos said his company had done a pilot placemat program similar to this one at Ram’s Horn over the summer, though the decision to work with Vets Returning Home was not made until October.

“We started this project to have kids express themselves and to give thanks to our troops that are returning home,” Tsatsos said.  “We want to bring awareness that there are homeless veterans out there and to help them raise money, because we believe that the vets are very important for our freedom.”

“Once the art is created, we’ll take that art, scan it in, and create a gallery online,” he said. “And what we’ll do is email that gallery to the parents of that child. Once the parents get to that gallery online, they can take that art and place it onto different products, and once the product is created and the art is on the product, they buy it, it goes to their house and we’ll donate 30 percent to Veterans Returning Home.”

Tsatsos added that the parents could also share the link to the gallery with friends and family in case any of them are interested in getting something, as well, but otherwise the galleries are private and cannot be searched by the general public.

Larry Remington, the franchisee for the restaurant, said his father was in the military and worked with tanks for 32 years, and he was on board to help out after fine-tuning the placemat program from the summer.

“I think you respect the U.S. and have a lot more pride when you see what our military men go through, and women, and everybody in the service,” Remington said. “It’s a big job out there, and a lot of responsibility.”

Veterans Returning Home Founder Sandy Bower said that when she became aware of the needs of veterans who were having trouble finding work and paying for shelter, she decided to get involved. She purchased the shelter and has been working with volunteers to get it furnished for vets to live at or get assistance.

The shelter got its occupancy permit in October, and as of Nov. 4, she said it is helping a couple of veterans and has come across other veterans’ families in need of help.

“We’re excited; I think we’re already making a difference,” Bowers said. “So far, our Macomb County vets that were in this situation were forced to go downtown to the shelters there, or to transitional housing, and now they can at least stay in their communities where their friends and family live, and where their roots are, rather than sending them into a totally new area that they are not feeling at home in.”

She said the shelter currently provides two-year housing for up to 53 veterans, as well as job training, job placement, medical screenings and counseling. It is also working with Project Salute, Bowers said, which helps veterans get their benefits from the federal government.

“One vet we’re dealing with had nine years in the military, two tours in Afghanistan, was wounded, and came home in February,” Bowers said. “She’s a weapon specialist and a logistics officer, and she can’t find a job. She’s in the active reserves, which means she’s not struggling with any issues — no drugs or alcohol, no (post-traumatic stress disorder); she’s physically able. She’s a logistics officer, she’s our hero and she can’t make her mortgage payment.”

Bowers added that the shelter is open to veterans from any time period, not just from the most recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The money raised from the art project will go toward paying the expenses of keeping the building open, like the electric bill, the insurance and staff. Food is being provided largely from Costco and Royalty House in Warren, Bowers said.

Remington said kids are drawing all sorts of things, from seasonal pieces to pictures of their parents, their pets and of themselves. Bowers noted her own grandson drew a picture of a soldier.

“I like to go around and see the kids and what they’re drawing,” Remington said. “I think it’s a great idea. It’s a very nice promotion, and a good way to give back to the people that helped us out.”

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