By Hannah Brenner
Lansing Township News Staff Reporter
There was not a single parking space open at VFW Post 701 on Saturday, Feb. 28. The hall was packed with all people, from old men talking at the bar to children dancing to the live band. It is a day that Navy veteran Ron Ledesma will never forget, the day the community came together to support him and his family.
VFW Post 701 housed a benefit for Ledesma and his family to help them pay for medical expenses and bills while he is unable to work. There were raffles, a silent auction, and even a live band. Ledesma himself was in attendance. Friends, family, and strangers visited with him the entire time. He noted that he only knew 30 percent of those in attendance.
The Lansing area has a significant amount of veterans like Ledesma, along with resources and organizations to support them so they don’t have to rely simply on fund-raisers like this one.
Michigan State University Veteran Resource Representative Sarah Mellon has seen the support system become progressively more connected in the recent years. The Veteran Resource Center itself is new on campus, it just celebrated its one year of existence this January.
“Sometimes I have to sit back and think wow, this is great because it is happening at such a fast pace,” said Mellon.
There are a whole slew of resources available to veterans through a network of knowledgeable professionals such as Mellon.
The state of Michigan has established Veteran Community Action Teams (VCATs) that are divided into regions. Lansing Township is in region seven, Eaton, Ingham, and Clinton County. They meet to discuss the resources they can provide. Mellon attends these meetings to learn about resources and make connections.
“Some of the organizations aren’t veteran-specific, but veterans may qualify for their services,” said Mellon. “If I have a veteran that approaches me in the office and they are looking for a particular need to be met and it’s not something we necessarily have available I can reach out to that VCAT here in region seven and say I have this circumstance what agencies provide this resource and I can do a really nice hand off from my office to one of those service providers.”
It’s also a way for the people behind those resources to form personal connections that make those hand-offs event more efficient and successful. “It’s really great to know you have people to reach out to and ask questions that you know and you’ve met with.”
Networking helped with the benefit for Ron Ledesma as well. A flier was put up on the VFW 701 Facebook page to spread the word. “A friend of mine came in and said he saw it on Facebook. I had no way to contact him so I’m glad,” he said. “This is just awesome.”
Said Mellon; “A lot of the veteran service organizations, the VFW, the American Legion, those are long standing veteran service organizations. They do a lot of outreach, they do a lot of advocacy for the veteran services, they assist veterans with accessing some of the benefits they may be eligible for. We have a county VA in Ingham County.”
“I didn’t realize how big the turnout was going to be, I really didn’t,” said Ron Ledesma. VFW Post 701 was a main reason the even was so successful. Their resources and members drew people in.
“My daughter kept saying , ‘Mom, there will not be a lot of people there,’” said Lorie Ledesma. The event raised $5,722.00.
People made an appearance for all kinds of reasons. Some knew the Ledesma family and wanted to do what they could to help. Others were members of VFW Post 701 and heard about the event. Several people saw the flier on Facebook and wanted to contribute.
The need stems back to Dec. 6, 2015, another day Ledesma will never forget. While helping a family member by cutting down trees, a falling branch knocked the ladder out from under him. He broke his back and severed his spinal cord, along with suffering a badly-broken wrist. He has had three surgeries on his back and one on his wrist.
The long-term effects cannot be determined yet, but Ledesma has already defied the odds by being able to stand and walk a little. He attended the benefit donning a back brace and a red walker, and stood proudly the whole time instead of opting to sit.
The short-term effects have been detrimental, not just with Ledesma’s physical condition, but for his family.
“I was off work for six weeks taking care of him,” said Ledesma’s wife, Lorie Ledesma. “With him being off work and then you don’t get disability for three months this helps a lot. It eases the mind.”
Ron Ledesma is an employee of the Board of Water and Light, and is still waiting for his disability benefits to kick in.
Ron Ledesma’s sister-in-law, Valerie Keys, had to jump through countless hoops to make the event possible. She was the primary coordinator for the benefit.
“We went out business to business getting donations to raffle off,” said Keys. “I want to thank VFW 701 directly for letting us do this benefit and all the companies that donated.”
All involved in helping veterans access resources to better their lives say it is extremely rewarding.
“ It’s been a fantastic experience to be able to do that reaching out and that connecting and sharing of information and it’s ultimately to provide those services and those programs and get to know the veterans in the community,” said Mellon.
Anyone interested in donating to the Ledesma family should contact Valerie Keys at firstname.lastname@example.org