All posts by Casey DiCicco

Albany County Correctional Veteran Pod featured on NBC News

Prisons Experiment With Cell Blocks for Military Vet

By Tracy Connor

There’s never been a fight on the wing. And when an inmate from another wing attacked a correction officer inside the pod last September, video cameras showed the veterans running out of their cells — not to pile on, but to stop the assault.

There’s never been a fight on the wing. And when an inmate from another wing attacked a correction officer inside the pod last September, video cameras showed the veterans running out of their cells — not to pile on, but to stop the assault.

“I don’t think that would have happened on any other tier,” Apple said.

Kyle Weber, 27, who served in the Air Force from 2008 to 2009 and arrived at the pod in October after violating his probation during a dispute with a relative, uses an unexpected phrase to describe the experience: “I feel safe here.”

Weber, who has a diagnosed mental illness, said the self-discipline and brotherhood on the unit surprised him until he thought about the inmates’ shared military background.

“We all fought for something bigger than ourselves,” he said. “This is the best worst thing that ever happened to me.”

Kyle Weber is part of the "veteran pod" at the Albany County Jail in upstate New York. He calls it the "best worst thing" that ever happened to him.

Kyle Weber is part of the “veteran pod” at the Albany County Jail in upstate New York. He calls it the “best worst thing” that ever happened to him.

The Albany County pod, among the first in the nation, is an experiment that reflects the goodwill of the public toward men and women who served the nation, and a shift in criminal justice policies away from the purely punitive.

There are similar programs in prisons and jails across the country — from Arizona, where inmates raise the flag every morning, to Washington state, where they train service dogs for vets returning home with PTSD — but they cover only a small fraction of the estimated 180,000 incarcerated veterans nationwide.

“They’re popping up everywhere,” said Scott Swaim, the division director of Justice for Vets, who is familiar with such pods through his advocacy for veteran treatment courts.

“I think there’s value to it. Military culture is really important and vet-to-vet support works best because all the conversations are shortened. We came from the same foundation. Everybody went through boot camp.”

Because veterans-only cell blocks are so new, official recidivism rates — which typically look at how many inmates are re-arrested in a three-year or five-year period — are scarce. But anecdotally, corrections officials say, pod populations are better behaved inside and less likely to be re-incarcerated after release.

“I don’t even lock up my locker,” said Steve Varnadore, 51, an Army veteran who is in a 125-bed minimum custody veterans dorm in Tucson, Arizona, serving a five-year drug sentence. “You wouldn’t think about coming to a prison to meet really good people, but I’ve met some really good people in my pod.”

Incarcerated veterans prepare the Stars and Stripes for the morning flag-raising at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Washington state

Incarcerated veterans prepare the Stars and Stripes for the morning flag-raising at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Washington state

The pods are program-intensive, a model that Apple agrees would probably improve the outcomes for any prison population. But he and other correction officials also note that veterans often have more education, better job prospects and more access to mental health benefits than the average inmate.

To create the Albany County unit, the jail partnered with a non-profit organization, Soldier On, that provides services for homeless veterans and opened transitional housing just down the road from the lockup. Soldier On staffers are on site 42 hours a week, their work largely paid for through U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs grants that total $225,000 a year, director Jack Downing said.

There are group discussions on addiction and post-traumatic stress, psychological counseling, and one-on-one meetings to connect inmates to benefits and plan for their discharge. A chiropractor paid through private donations treats the inmates with alternative medicine techniques because, the group says, veterans are often resistant to conventional therapies.

Group counseling sessions on the veteran pod at the Albany County jail often tackle issues of post-traumatic stress and addiction

Group counseling sessions on the veteran pod at the Albany County jail often tackle issues of post-traumatic stress and addiction

Pod members can wear Soldier On t-shirts over their uniforms and they get extra time out of their cells. The jail recently started a job program that allowed one prisoner to earn thousands of dollars working at a local quarry at full pay.

“It’s still jail,” Apple said. “But we want to help them let their guard down a little bit and trust us as we want to trust them.”

The most important piece of the puzzle might be what happens after the veterans are released. Some end up in Soldier On housing; others are followed by caseworkers to make sure they see their probation officer, get drug and alcohol treatment, and have a ride to job interviews.

“Your traditional inmate would get released and get a bus token and say ‘See ya later,’ and more times than not they end up coming back, which drives that recidivism rate right back up,” Apple said.

The pod has room for 30 veterans. Some have spent years in the military; others only weeks. Some have been in trouble just once or twice, while others have rap sheets far longer than their military history.

Charles Brown, 67, estimates he’s spent 22 years of his life locked up. Jail officials said he was one of the more troublesome inmates during past stays; since he’s been in the pod, after yet another drug arrest, he’s been a model prisoner.

“This is like basic training all over again,” Brown said.

Brown was in the Air Force for just five months during the Vietnam War before getting a family-related discharge, but says he was haunted by his time working in a base morgue. Despite the brevity of his military stint, he said he’s bonded with other pod members in ways he did not in the general population.

“We all have something in common besides the criminal element,” he explained.

The Albany County pod eschews military-style activities, but other veteran units around the country have incorporated the trappings of the armed services.

In Florida, which opened dorms at five sites in 2011 to accommodate about 400 men and women, inmates paint patriotic murals and can participate in an honor guard. Washington state paired up one of its three sites with the Brigadoon Service Dogs training program; the inmates built dog houses decorated with military insignia.

Inmates in Florida's veteran dorms paint murals representing the service branches on prison wards.

Inmates in Florida’s veteran dorms paint murals representing the service branches on prison wards.

The Arizona Corrections Department established a work program at a local veterans cemetery and prepares special meals for Veterans Day and Memorial Day. It also opened a veterans’ garden where inmates are working to create a certified way-station for migrating monarch butterflies.

Deputy Warden Dionne Martinez said that 50 inmates have been released since their pod opened a year and a half ago; officials know of only one who has ended up back in custody. Now they are trying to start a program for women.

In Albany, the veteran pod often has unfilled cells. The sheriff wants to offer counties from around the state the opportunity to send veterans to do their time in the Soldier On pod.

The jail has 1,040 beds overall and is one of the largest in the state due to expansion during the crack cocaine explosion of the 1980s and a lock-’em-up approach to drug offenders, Apple said.

“I had that mentality myself,” he added. “But sooner or later, you realize we are not winning the war. We’ve got to do things differently.


Thank you Blood Brothers!

Soldier On would like to give a HUGE Thank You to the members of the Blood Brothers band.

On Saturday, January 14, 2017 the Blood Brothers band held a benefit concert at Joanna’s Restaurant in Somers, CT on behalf of Soldier On. All proceeds from tickets sales and the various raffles were donated directly to Soldier On. The event raised over $17,500.00. Sponsors of the event include; Bee-Line Corporation, Attorney Bruce E. Devlin of Crear, Chadwell, Dos Santos & Devlin, P.C, Thomas Wilson Enterprises, Inc., JD Rivet & Co., Inc., Maybury Material Handling, Harry Grodsky & Co, Inc. and Forastiere-Smith Funeral Home.

In addition, Rock 102 mid-day host, Dan Williams, graciously MC’d the event. Williams is a former U.S. Marine.

The Band

Blood Brothers Photo
The Blood Brothers were formed in 2013 by Tim Tomko and Bruce Devlin, who are the two lead singers and also play guitar. In 2014, the two more members joined the band, Kim Cole, drummer, and Jeff Sullivan, bass and keys.  The band plays a diverse library of cover music in addition to original songs.


Senator Edward Markey visits Pittsfield


Left to Right: Sara Scoco Director of Soldier On Women’s Program , Jack Downing CEO of Soldier On, Senator Edward Markey, Bruce Buckley CFO of Soldier On, State Representative Tricia Farley Bouvier, and State Senator Adam Hinds.

On Saturday, January 7th Senator Edward Markey was in Pittsfield for the Four Freedoms Coalition March and Rally. During his time in town the Senator visited Soldier On  and toured the Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community along with Massachusetts State Senator Adam Hinds, State Representative Tricia Farley Bouvier, and Pittsfield City Councilor At-Large Pete White.

Left to Right: John Crane Director of Case Management, Jack Downing CEO, Senator Edward Markey, Jeff Snyder,State Senator Adam Hinds, State Representative Tricia Farley Bouvier, and Pittsfield City Councilor At-Large Pete White.

Left to Right: John Crane Director of Case Management, Jack Downing CEO, Senator Edward Markey, Jeff Snyder,State Senator Adam Hinds, State Representative Tricia Farley Bouvier, and Pittsfield City Councilor At-Large Pete White.

Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community resident, Jeff Snyder, had the opportunity to share his story with the Senator and the rest of the guests when he opened up his condo for a tour.


Berkshire Bank Announces First Exciting Assists Grant Recipient

$9,600 Grant Benefits Soldier On

PITTSFIELD, MA, December 12, 2016 – Berkshire Bank, America’s Most Exciting Bank®, is excited to announce that its Foundation, in partnership with NESN (New England Sports Network), has awarded a $9,600 grant to Soldier On through the Berkshire Bank Exciting Assists Grant program. Soldier On CFO Bruce Buckley accepted the contribution from Berkshire Bank’s Assistant Vice President of Community Engagement Gary Levante during NESN’s coverage of the Boston Bruins game on December 8.

The Exciting Assists Grant program runs through April 1, 2017 and raises funds to support three charitable causes. Berkshire Bank’s Foundation provides $100 per assist to the program. An assist is defined as a Boston player who shot, passed or deflected the puck towards the scoring teammate, or touched it in any other way which enabled the goal, meaning that they were “assisting” in the goal. During the first portion of the season Boston had 96 assists resulting in the $9,600 grant from Berkshire Bank Foundation.

Soldier On, the first nonprofit beneficiary of the Exciting Assists Grant program, has a single mission; ending homelessness amongst the nation’s veterans. Since 1994, they’ve provided homeless veterans with transitional housing and supportive services including opening the first Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community in 2010, a permanent housing cooperative that provides formerly homeless veterans with safe, sustainable, affordable housing – transitioning them from homelessness to homeownership. Soldier On is replicating this model nationally.

In addition to Soldier On, two other nonprofit organizations will receive funding during the remainder of the season including:

Birthday Wishes – provides children facing homelessness with a joyous birthday party that will brighten their special day, reduce the trauma of homelessness, and give them hope for a better future. Promotion Period: (December 8 – February 3)

Cradles to Crayons – provides children from birth through age 12, living in homeless or low-income situations, with the essential items they need to thrive at home, at school and at play, free of charge by engaging and connecting communities that have communities in need. Promotion Period: (February 4 – March 31)

About Berkshire Bank Foundation

Through foundation grants to nonprofits, scholarships to students, environmental programs, and employee volunteerism, Berkshire Bank is making a difference. Each year the Foundation donates $2 million to nonprofits throughout the Bank’s footprint and employees provide over 40,000 hours of volunteer service. Annually, 100% of the company’s employees participate in their corporate volunteer program, the highest participate rate of any company in the U.S. Berkshire Bank was named one of Massachusetts’ Most Charitable Companies by the Boston Business Journal in 2016. To learn more about Berkshire Bank Foundation, visit

About Berkshire Bank

Berkshire Hills Bancorp (NYSE: BHLB) is the parent of Berkshire Bank, America’s Most Exciting Bank®. The Company, recognized for its entrepreneurial approach and distinctive culture, has $9 billion in assets and 99 full service branch offices in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey and Pennsylvania providing personal and business banking, insurance, and wealth management services. To learn more, visit, call 800-773-5601 or follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Berkshire Bank is the official bank of NESN’s Boston Bruins coverage and the community partner of Boston Season at City Hall Plaza.

About NESN

NESN has consistently been one of the top-rated regional sports networks in the country with award-winning Red Sox and Bruins coverage. The network is delivered to over 4 million homes throughout the six-state New England region and an additional 5 million homes nationally as NESN National on digital and sports tiers in over 100 DMAs. Forbes Magazine recently ranked NESN as the 10th Most Valuable Sports Business Brand in the world. is one of the Top 15 sports Web sites in the U.S. and recently launched NESN Fuel, a Web site for automotive enthusiasts. NESN’s social responsibility program, NESN Connects, is proud to support and connect its employees with charitable organizations in our communities. NESN is owned by Fenway Sports Group (owners of the Boston Red Sox) and Delaware North (owners of the Boston Bruins).

Contact: Heidi Higgins
Berkshire Bank
Phone: (413) 236-3756

Vanessa Pesa
Berkshire Bank
Phone: 413-447-1851


Women’s Program Featured in the Hampshire Daily Gazette

Daily Hampshire Gazette | Tuesday, November 29, 2016 | Sarah Crosby


Sara Scoco, director of Soldier On Women's Program, left, and Soldier On resident Silva Petrus listen to announcements during a Nov. 17, 2016 house meeting at Soldier On's transitional housing for female veterans on the Veterans Affairs campus in Leeds.

Sara Scoco, director of Soldier On Women’s Program, left, and Soldier On resident Silva Petrus listen to announcements during a Nov. 17, 2016 house meeting at Soldier On’s transitional housing for female veterans on the Veterans Affairs campus in Leeds.

A rocky path led veteran Mary Wilson to the doorstep of the Soldier On Women’s Program. “The gift of desperation,” she calls it.


A former U.S. Marine Corps private, Wilson in July moved into the transitional housing program located on the grounds of the VA medical center. After years of struggle, she says, she finally feels like she has a base on which to build a life.

“It’s hard to ask for help, but yet Soldier On is an environment where, honestly, I can ask for help and not feel weak doing it,” she said. “I’m treated like a human being here. I’m not a number filling a bed.”

Soldier On is a private nonprofit organization focused on ending homelessness among veterans. The group has been offering services to all veterans — including women — since 1994. But in more recent years, they have emphasized programming that caters specifically to the needs of female veterans.

For those veterans, the 16-bedroom house provides a place to heal from wounds inflicted not just by the nation’s enemies but, too often, by fellow soldiers. Surrounded by a caring staff and female veterans carrying similar scars, Wilson and others begin to find their way.

A dream shattered

Wilson, a spunky 29-year-old most recently donning neon blue hair, joined the Marine Corps when she was 20 and celebrated her 21st birthday in military training. As demanding as it was, she felt like she’d found her niche.

She joined to escape “a life that was going nowhere,” said Wilson, who grew up in East Longmeadow. Stuck in a post-high school rut, she found herself experimenting with cocaine and involved in a relationship that was mutually abusive.

“I figured that if I was going to get my ass kicked, I might as well get paid for it,” she said of her choice to enlist. At first, she struggled to get clean in order to qualify but was eventually able to do so.

In the Marines, Wilson found the mental and physical challenges she had been looking for. Her squadron, which was based at Cherry Point, N.C. but sometimes deployed to Arizona, was responsible for loading and unloading bombs from jets.

“For once in my life, I had to study,” she said. “It wasn’t just ‘Things blow up and go boom.’ There’s actually a math and a science; a rhyme and a reason to everything,” Wilson said.

But less than two years later, that new-found promise was cut short.

Wilson says she was sexually assaulted by a male superior in the Marines, after experiencing what she described as endless “sick, graphic and mean” communications — text messages, voicemails and emails.

“There were red flags ahead of time” she said in an interview, her eyes growing hollow.

Her boss would sometimes cut her shifts short, insist on buying her drinks at military outings and walk her back to her barracks alone.

Wilson said she knew something was wrong, but didn’t press the issue because she didn’t want to upset him and, consequently, jeopardize her career.

“He has a crush on me, it isn’t going to go anywhere,” she told herself. But then the officer began sending everyone else home early so he and Wilson would be left alone.

“One night he wanted yes, I wanted no, and that was the first time,” she said of the first time she was raped. Wilson said the assault occurred two more times over the course of a month.

By the last time, Wilson couldn’t look at herself. She decided to run.

“I got in my car and I drove. And I just drove and I drove and I drove — (11-plus hours) straight back to Massachusetts,” she said. After roughly 20 days, she decided to return and face the situation.

When she arrived, she couldn’t bring herself to drive onto the Cherry Point base.

“I must have circled 100 times,” Wilson recalled. When the questions came about where she’d been, she turned over her phone, with all the messages, to management.

Rather than providing support, Wilson said, her fellow Marines called her a “lying b****,” for “disrespecting and disgracing a decorated Marine with a family.”

That began her discharge process.

The Judge Advocate General’s Corps made a deal with Wilson that, if she testified against her assaulter, they’d make sure her record showed a general discharge under honorable conditions.

She accepted. But the troubles didn’t end.

Wilson said some of her peers, whom she had previously considered friends, stopped talking to her. For the next several months, she was instructed to sit on a chair outside her ordnance shop during working hours.

Wilson was eventually discharged, but had to return to testify at a court martial on her birthday – Feb. 15, 2011. She found a death threat on her car and listened as some of her friends testified against her, she recalled.

Still, the man who had assaulted her was found guilty, she said.

When Wilson returned to Massachusetts following court, she says, she lost it.

She tried therapy, but couldn’t bring herself to talk about the traumatic experience. Instead, she turned back to drugs — this time, “grabbing onto it with everything,” she said.

“If I didn’t have drugs, I probably would have killed myself,” she said.

Wilson found herself in a downward spiral. She developed a heavy Percocet habit; sometimes turning an entire $2,000 paycheck in one day to purchase the drug.

She asked her parents for help and began signing over her paychecks to them to curb her spending. When they thwarted her attempts to buy drugs, she said she began “stealing anything that wasn’t bolted down in their house.”

As the months passed, Wilson found herself in a serious car accident involving alcohol, addicted to heroin, and smuggling guns for gang members.

“Anything I could make money on, I did,” she said.

Her father, concerned for his daughter’s well-being, used a Massachusetts law known as Section 35 to have her involuntarily committed. Section 35 “permits the courts to involuntarily commit someone whose alcohol or drug use puts themselves or others at risk,” according to Mass.Gov.

The first time she was picked up by authorities in East Longmeadow and sent to a treatment facility for 20-plus days. Wilson was released, and began using heroin that same day. Her father filed for her to be committed, again.

The second time Wilson was hospitalized, she said she was facing warrants for drug-fueled behavior such as receiving stolen property, check fraud and breaking and entering. She agreed to go to a halfway house in Springfield to avoid jail time — but, after a month, left the program.

The scenario played out again and again, worsening each time.

She was living in a tent, having violated probation, when she was arrested and sent to the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center in Chicopee in 2014. She served multiple stints of jail time there during the next year, exchanging some time for inpatient treatment and, each time she was released, failing to check in with a probation officer.

Sara Scoco, the director of the women’s program at Soldier On, visited Wilson in jail at the plea of her father.

“She told me to f*** off,” Scoco said. Wilson said she told Scoco to save the bed for somebody who wanted it.

Finding safe haven

The Soldier On Women’s Program is a complex operation focused on giving female veterans back their sense of control.

Scoco said veteran women are four times more likely to become homeless due to challenges faced in accessing services, a tendency to isolate themselves and, often dealing with the aftermath of sexual trauma.

“The VA is an extremely male-dominated arena,” she said. “It’s often assumed when a woman walks in that she’s the sister of, the wife of, the daughter of a veteran. Not the veteran herself. That’s unacceptable and we need to change that.”

Soldier On seeks to fill this gap for female veterans through a variety of programming, such as one-on-one meetings with clinicians and social workers, goal-setting and self esteem groups, employment and educational opportunities, alcohol and substance abuse programs and wellness, fitness and art therapy classes.

Scoco estimates roughly 80 percent of the house residents have experienced military sexual trauma and have not been able to address that until arriving at the Soldier On Women’s Program, which is run by a female staff.

Assisting the women in making connections to their communities outside Soldier On is also of big emphasis for the staff.

“We’re helping to link them to all the services they might not have known existed,”Scoco said, adding that many veterans are not VA-eligible when they arrive but are when they leave. “The ultimate goal is getting them back into the community, and what that looks like is different for everyone.”

But in order for the program to be successful, Scoco said, the women must be ready to make a change.

Ready to rebuild

After two years of running from the law, Wilson decided she was ready to make that change.

In the winter of 2016 she was prostituting herself and living with a client, when she decided to turn herself in to authorities.

“I was just so sick of living, feeling dirty every day and the things I had to do,” she said.

Her sister had reached out around that time with a request to cook Wilson dinner — in her own home — as a celebration of her birthday.

The gesture came at a time when Wilson had come to feel that no one trusted her. It had a deep impact on her, she said.

“I just kept hearing ‘stop running, stop running,’” Wilson said of that day. “Even in receipts and newspapers, I couldn’t see any words besides ‘stop running.’”

She called her father on a Friday and promised to turn herself in that Monday, if he’d come pick her up. He did.

That weekend, father and daughter both met with Soldier On. Wilson planned to request parole so she could move to the transitional housing program after a year in jail.

But while awaiting trial in the Chicopee jail, Wilson was offered an alternative to incarceration.

The Western Massachusetts Veterans Treatment Court, a specialty court based in Holyoke, offered her 18 months of active participation in conjunction with recovery at Soldier On, instead of serving her time in a jail cell.

“It’s really more about building them up than it is penalizing them,” said Scoco of the treatment court.

After just four months of jail time and a few months of inpatient recovery, Wilson moved into her new home at Soldier On.

During a recent visit to veterans court, Wilson took the stand and spoke of her recovery process to the judge and other participants. Tears filled her eyes.

“I didn’t think it was possible,” she said, citing the nine-plus months she’s been sober and clean.

“For the first time in her life, something’s clicking,” Scoco said of Wilson’s success in a later interview. “Something’s working.”

Long-term challenge

While most veterans stay at Soldier On for one to two years, some women there need longer-term support, Scoco said.

LouAnn Hazelwood, 61, has lived there off and on since 2012. Soldier On offered her a place to belong after she left an abusive marriage of nearly two decades.

Hazelwood, a U.S. Army veteran who enlisted in 1976, says she suffered sexual trauma both in and out of the military.

At 21, she saw the military as a way to escape what she called “a very dysfunctional household.”

“I used to ride my bike around the Holiday Inn, looking at all the different license plates and thinking about what it would be like to go (to them),” she said.

But she did not find that safe place with the Army. When she arrived at Soldier On decades later, Hazelwood did not even speak. She was full of fear from her traumatic past.

“There was a time I didn’t even feel comfortable in my own skin,” she said.

But, Hazelwood adds, “I don’t feel that way, anymore.”

She, too, has flourished with the program.

Hazelwood now sings in a local church choir, crochets pieces for her housemates and community members, volunteers and makes paintings — many of which have been showcased at regional organizations.

Scoco and Hazelwood agree that, in order to continue doing well, she will always need some kind of structure in her life. To solve this issue for her, and others, Soldier On is in the initial stages of planning eight to 10 units of permanent housing for female veterans, to be located in Pittsfield.

“Some women go out into the community and, in six or eight months, they’re relapsing,” Scoco said. “Right now, (the long-term housing) is the missing piece.”

A happy surprise

Wilson and her peers, including Hazelwood, will soon embark on a new journey together — on a path not yet forged by Soldier On. In approximately six months, the house will welcome Wilson’s newborn child, their youngest resident by far.

The pregnancy came as a surprise to both Wilson and the house members.

At first, she was scared and questioned her suitability to become a parent. But the more she sat with the idea, it seemed to her that there might be a reason she was pregnant.

“Once I heard the baby’s heartbeat, for the first time, it was ‘game on,’” she said. The child’s father is also a veteran.

So far, Wilson’s pregnancy has only motivated her further to work on her recovery.

“It’s not about me,” she said. “If I mess up, it’s going to affect this kid.”

Scoco said that, although Soldier On has never taken on a new baby, she’s thrilled to offer Wilson support when she needs it most.

“It’s probably not the best time in the world for her to be pregnant, but she is,” Scoco said. “So we’re going to help her deal with it.”

Wilson’s housemates have also rallied to celebrate the new life growing inside her. Scoco is confident that the women in the house will make a positive impact on the baby.

“The hurt they’ve been through runs so deep that they can just nurture and support one another like I’ve never seen before,” she said.

In several weeks, the ladies will be throwing a gender party to reveal the baby’s sex to the expecting mother.

“There’s a sisterhood here that is nowhere else,” Wilson said.

But the staff are the ones who make recovery possible, according to her.

“They jump through hoopsof fire, for me,” she said of Scoco and wellness director Stephanie Ovitt. “They move mountains. My dream is just a dream without them.”


TD Charitable Foundation – Bring Change Campaign


Soldier On was privileged enough to be the beneficiary of the TD Bank November Bring Change program at their West Street and Merrill Road store locations in Pittsfield, MA.

The program ran from November 1st-18th. On Friday, November 18th Soldier On was presented with a $5,580.00 donation from the campaign. Residents and staff from Soldier On went to the West Street location to accept the donation.

TD Bank through its charitable giving arm, the TD Charitable Foundation carries a legacy of supporting non-profit organizations. Since its inception in 202, the foundation has contributed over $160 million in grant funding to organizations in the communities where TD works, lives, and does business.


2016 Veterans Day Weekend

Soldier On was busy during the weekend of Veterans Day.  Below is a recap of the various events that Soldier On participated in.

Friday November 11th

Friday morning Soldier On staff and residents walked in the Pittsfield and Northampton Parades.


Pittsfield – Veterans Day Parade

Northampton – Veterans Day Parade



Soldier On’s kitchen held a prime-rib lunch at the West Housatonic Street location in Pittsfield. In addition the kitchen partook in Springside Rehabilitation & Skilled Care Center‘s Chili Cook-Off. Local restaurants participated in the cook-off: Friends Grille, Hot Dog Ranch, Matt Reilly’s Pub, Patrick’s Pub, PortSmitt’s Lakeway, Zucchini’s Restaurant, and Zuke’s Soups and Variety. The winners were: 1st Place Kim Brophy, 2nd Sprinside, 3rd Soldier On.  All proceeds raised were donated to Soldier On.




Left to Right: Soldier On Resident Louann, Women’s Director Sara Scoco, and Soldier On Resident Corinne

Friday afternoon Soldier On former and current residents; Kevin, Russell, Louann, and Corinne spoke at Norman Rockwell Museum’s Veterans Day: Afloat and Ashore: Rockwell’s Soldiers.




Friday evening Sarah Polidore and Casey DiCicco attended a veterans resource fair at Westfield State University. The fair was held prior to the football game against Western Connecticut State University. In addition to it being military appreciation night it was also senior night.




SSVF staff Barbara Parker-Thornton, Preston Williams, Greg Morgan, Robert Payne, Sheron Brown-Gorden, Alvin Buckley, Margaret Johnson and Michael Cohen served Veterans Day lunch to the participants in the Soldier On Statewide Incarcerated Veterans Program at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, Mississippi.

Additionally, Alvin Buckley participated in the annual Veterans Day Liberty Luncheon at the Vicksburg Convention Center in Vicksburg.



New Jersey


Left to Right: Jill Lombardozzi, Jose Bracero, Traci Herrman and Jennifer Marshall

On Friday evening SSVF staff  Jill Lombardozzi, Jose Bracero, Traci Herrman and Jennifer Marshall attended the GI Go Fund Veterans Day Gala in Newark.



Saturday, November 12th

Raymour & Flanigan in West Springfield presented Soldier On with a $500 check from their Community Event Outreach Program. In addition the store held a raffle where a $5 donation to Soldier On would allow the customer to be entered into a drawing for a $200.00 gift certificate to Raymour & Flanigan. Soldier On staffed a table during the peak shopping hours on Saturday; Sarah Polidore and Casey DiCicco worked in the morning while Sabrina Willard and Netshari Ortiz worked in the afternoon.



New York


Chris Shortell and Ilian Galan

The 9th Annual Central New York Veterans Parade and Expo was held on Saturday. CNY SSVF staff William Brown, Ilian Galan, and Chris Shortell attended the expo which was in the Center of Progress Building in Syracuse.



Jessica Brooks & Meadow McDowell

Jessica Brooks & Meadow McDowell

Seneca County Veterans Service Agency hosted “Stand Down 2016” at the VFW in Waterloo where Jessica Brooks and Meadow McDowell set up a table at the event.



Sunday, November 13th 

The American Legion Women’s Auxiliary Unit #155 in Dalton held their annual Veterans Dinner Dance.  In addition to Soldier On residents attending the following staff were present: Sam Bennett, Sandi Lussier (her husband was in attendance), Steve Como, and Sarah Polidore (her husband was in attendance).


New York

Albany County Sheriff’s Office presented Soldier On with the Patriotism Recognition Award at the Siena College men’s basketball game against Cornell University. Dominick Sondrini, New York SSVF Supervisor, accepted the award and spoke on behalf of Soldier On. Prior to the game Katrina Middleton set up a table providing information on Soldier On in the main concourse of the Times Union Center.




Berkshire Bank check presentation at Kiwanis Park of Honor

On Saturday, October 29th Berkshire Bank presented Soldier On with a $6,675.00 donation derived from the Military Checking Account Promotion.
Bruce Buckley, Cory Bazinet, and Jack Downing

Bruce Buckley, Cory Bazinet, and Jack Downing

Artcle in
Kiwanis’ Park of Honor Program Continues to Grow
Andy McKeever
In its third year, the Kiwanis Club of Pittsfield has gotten even more flag sponsors and has filled Park Square and even expanded to a park in Sheffield.
The organization has sold more than 740 flags in honor of veterans, the profits of which will go to college scholarships for children and grandchildren of veterans.
“The best part of the project is it is growing and it keeps growing,” said Chairman Real Gadoury, who said more than $24,000 will be raised through the local effort.
“Now we have at least five states where they do the same thing we do here.”
In Park Square, 640 flags are flying, each with its own dedication to a veteran. Another 100 will be in Sheffield. But, all of the money raised will stay right in the Berkshires, helping the families of veterans here.
“This is all about the veterans,” said local Kiwanis Club President Jack Nogueira. “We are a nation of the free but we will not be able to maintain that unless we have these men and women fighting to keep the enemy away.”
The Park of Honor program started three years ago with the hope of selling 200 flags. The club sold 523, which allowed it to give out a dozen $1,000 scholarships. Last year, 670 flags were sold translating to $24,000 in scholarships. Now, the club has surpassed that figure. Next year, Gadoury said he hopes to see this program be replicated in more cities and towns in Berkshire County.
Mayor Linda Tyer says of all the compliments and praise she hears about the city, the flags are the most talked about. The flags are flown in the park throughout the month of November.
“I am proud of our city and our citizens,” she said, after telling a story of a wounded veteran who despite losing a foot was able to climb Mount Everest.
The story focused on the family of that man and Tyer used it to illustrate how families of veterans have “profound experiences” — something she knows firsthand from being the daughter of a career military man.
The program of speakers on Saturday kicked off the monthlong honor. Additionally, Berkshire Bank presented a $6,675 donation to Soldier On. The figure was derived from $25 per veteran who opened a checking account with the bank.
“If anything good can come from war, it is that this happens for guys like me,” said Cory Bazinet, a veteran presenting the check from the Berkshire Bank Foundation said.
Soldier On is a transitional housing development for homeless veterans. CEO Jack Downing used the ceremony to announce that Soldier On is building a dozen more units at its West Housatonic Street campus specifically for women veterans. It’ll be the first village for veteran women.
The nearly hourlong ceremony drew a substantial amount of people, who filled up most of the park. Kiwanis had been working on all morning installing the flags and the ceremony featured patriotic songs, Taps, a rifle salute, a missing man table ceremony, and a number of speakers.
“I am very, very proud to be here to see this sea of red, white, and blue, said George DeLisle, Kiwanis Club district manager.

Veterans Appreciation Day at Country Club of Pittsfield

Sunday October 16, 2016


Country Club of Pittsfield hosted their first annual Veterans Appreciation Day on Sunday, October 16th. The country club invited all Berkshire County veterans that are golfers to enjoy the day with a luncheon and a round of golf. Soldier On will be receiving a donation for all the contributions from members of the country club and local businesses.




VCAI First Friday Artswalk featured in The Berkshire Eagle

Soldier On: First Friday Artswalk showcases veterans’ artwork

Berkshire Eagle | Richard Lindsay | October 7, 2016

The 57-year-old Navy veteran isn’t afraid to try new painting styles and a range of subjects from outer space to swinging in a hammock among birch trees.

“I call it wild imagination,” he said. “Having no style is my style.”

Wyatt’s art is also therapeutic as, once homeless in Philadelphia, he came to Soldier On in Pittsfield five years ago to get back on his feet. He has since transferred from the transitional care facility on West Housatonic Street to Soldier On’s permanent veterans housing next door.

Painting was the emotional outlet Wyatt needed on the road to stability.

“It’s helped me with my mental injuries; it helps me relax and is a great hobby,” he said.

Wyatt is among the dozens of current and former Soldier On residents in Pittsfield and in Leeds enrolled in the nonprofit organization’s Veterans Community Arts Initiative. Several of the program’s artists will make their debut this evening during the city’s First Fridays Artswalk.

Each month between 15 and 20 downtown businesses show case primarily paintings and photographs from local visual artists, with several of the venues having opening receptions from 5 to 8 p.m. The veterans art will only be on display during that three-hour period at the Intermodal Transportation Center on the corner of Columbus Avenue and North Street. Typically, First Fridays art is on display for the remainder of the month.

Shortly after Soldier On hired Nathan Hanford as its art director three years ago, the Becket artist created the art initiative that has had a range of talent.

“I’m working with people who’ve suffered strokes, never painted before or are seasoned artists,” he said.

Transportation Center at the Intermodal Center in Pittsfield.

Hanford hopes the First Fridays debut will lead to a more regular showing of the veterans work. He currently has a rotating exhibit of his students paintings at the Hilltown Community development Corporation based in Chesterfield, between Worthington and Leeds.

“We hope that this is the beginning of an ongoing partnership between Soldier On and First Fridays Artswalk venues,” said Pittsfield Cultural Development Director Jen Glockner.

The veterans art is the latest in art therapy exhibits taking hold during First Fridays Artswalk. The Berkshire Alzheimer’s Partnership “Memories in the Making” returns on Friday at Downtown Pittsfield Inc. after making its debut last year.

“It’s especially nice for the families of the Alzheimer’s patients to see their loved ones express themselves with these beautiful pieces of art,” Glockner said.

The Soldier On art initiative has seen a few of its pupils hone their skills to the point it’s no longer a hobby, but a career. Hanford cited one veteran who has his own studio apartment in the downtown.

“He’s painting profusely and having his own shows,” he said.

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