Project Help: A Key to Helping New Jersey’s Veterans on the Homefront
By: Megan Roche
For Sandy Mitchell, beginning Project Help in 2016 was one of those lightbulb-going-off moments. After losing her husband to suicide after he came back from the Vietnam War, she picked up the pieces for her children. She attended school in the evenings and worked a full time job to support her family. She found that she loved helping others, but was never truly satisfied.
“I started this by myself and was determined that no matter what, this was going to be successful. I wanted to accomplish our mission, no matter what it took. My husband got out after 11 years in the military and when I lost him to suicide, I had three kids. It was also a real learning point for me, dealing with a tragedy. From losing him, I really had to make a decision of where my life was going to go. I could either pick up the pieces and move forward and create a life for myself and my kids or I was going to become a victim and be a complete and utter failure in my life. I really recreated my life after losing him,” Mitchell said.
With many stints with other non-profits and through starting some of her own, her true passion in life was unlocked when she created Project Help. Project Help is designed to help veterans in need. Mitchell helps connect veterans to all sorts of organizations who can help with lawyers, mental and physical health issues, housing, and more. Project Help also offers financial assistance to New Jersey veterans who qualify.
“I am supposed to do this because of what happened in my life. It’s been a lot of hard work, but I have made tons and tons of contacts. I have grand visions of things to come and I am really excited about the organization. I have a good group of people who I work with and I think that we are all on the same track that we want to help veterans get through some of their darkest days and prevent as much tragedy in their lives as we can,” Mitchell said.
Project Help recently launched their Mobile Closet initiative. The mobile closet serves as a resource to veterans and their families. The converted school bus drives around the area and finds itself mainly outside colleges and career fairs to offer free interview clothing and career advice to local veterans. The bus also houses computers and printers for creating and printing resumes. The bus was unveiled in late 2019.
“It’s been an amazing ride right now. We have people calling left and right who want to volunteer or get involved. After launching the bus, it really became a launch pad for us. We have been getting a good bit of recognition lately, and it’s been really good for us,” Mitchell shared.
In addition to their mobile closet, they also host many fundraising events throughout the year. In December, the team works to collect Christmas cards for veterans and toys for children of veteran families. Many people comment on Project Help’s website about what the organization has meant to them.
“Project Help has been a huge blessing for me, after going through a couple of challenging years of losing everything and having no place to live. When I finally got my apartment, Project Help paid one month’s rent for me. Not only was PH ready to help but Sandy put me in touch with people/organizations ready to help a Veteran in need. I’m so grateful for PH helping me at a pivotal, intricate time. Especially during the time when many of the larger organizations declined to help. Something that I will never forget about Project Help is that Sandy got to know me personally and she was able to connect me with amazing people who were eager to help me and go far beyond the call of duty. As a Veteran, it is important for me to know that Project Help is supported and able to continue their work, because they truly have a heart to help Veterans. Sandy, thank you times a million!” Rita, an Army veteran, posted on their website.
Mitchell’s work has become fulfilling for her in the best of ways. She is there for veterans, whether they need someone to vent to or by helping those veterans navigate problems in their life, she feels that she still has much to offer to these men and women who give their lives to defend our freedoms.
“Life is full of choices and you have to decide where you want it to go and what you want to do. I like to help these veterans come up with a plan for their lives. If you help one person, you have done good, and there is always more good to be done in this world,” Mitchell said.
Project Help is always actively seeking new volunteers to join their expanding team. Volunteers can give as much of their time as they wish by helping out at fundraisers, handing out marketing materials, placing phone calls, updating data spreadsheets, and keeping their mobile closet clean and ready to go.
“In 2018, our target goal for volunteers was 50. Since most have limited time and experience, our need is more than if we pre-qualified volunteers. Our best volunteers, often move on to joining a committee and some actually become board of director members,” Mitchell said.
The future of Project Help is bright. They have recently expanded their organization to Florida, and are hoping to add additional branches in New York and Pennsylvania in 2020. For more information on Project Help or to learn how to become a volunteer or donor, visit www.projecthelp.us.