2018 Holiday Season/Serving Senior Vets for the Holidays

November 10, 2018

A call for help for some senior Veterans turned into an ongoing mission for Jay Mills, VP, Operations, for Vylla Escrow in Aliso Viejo, CA.

Six years ago, Jay was contacted by Deanne Tate, Director of Veterans Outreach OC (Orange County), asking for assistance with a Veterans Day event that had lost its sponsor at the last minute. Two residential group homes for Vets in Santa Ana had been looking forward to special meals and entertainment on the November holiday, but the underwriter had suddenly pulled out.

“Deanne asked if our group would be able to take on one of the two homes and provide the dinner and entertainment for 15 people,” recalls Jay. “I told her I would take on both of them.”

Jay says he made calls, passed the hat for funds, and “looped in a new sponsor.” Both events were a hit with the resident Vets, he says. Then just a week later, Jay got a call from Deanne about Josephine House, a residential senior Veterans’ group home in Garden Grove that needed volunteers to prepare and serve its Thanksgiving meal. “Once again, we mobilized and gave them a meal to truly be thankful for,” says Jay. “Most of the Veterans looked like they’d been completely forgotten by family and society. They were withdrawn and difficult to connect with.” Jay says that many of the residents of this group home had faced becoming homeless due to lack of support and financial means.

Concerned about these seniors, Jay decided to “adopt” the Veterans’ home as an ongoing project, enlisting a co-chair to form the Friends of Josephine House. “At first, we made it our mission to be there for them on every holiday,” says Jay. “But as time went on and we were able to create some awareness and funding, we increased the frequency of our visits to every month. I can’t thank our volunteers enough. It really does take a village.”

Jay cooks the meals himself, and he’ll be doing that this season with his Friends of Josephine House team of volunteers, which hosts monthly gourmet dinners for the resident Vets. The Thanksgiving celebration was November 14, and a prime rib dinner is coming up on December 19. And because music always makes merry, Jay’s band will also perform holiday tunes for the December party.

Jay says his mission started out just to provide better, more nutritious food for senior Vets, but he’s expanded his efforts to offset other needs the men may have. “We privately fundraise to help offset the costs of serving these gentlemen all year long,” says Jay. “The meals, however, are only part of it. These men live on very fixed incomes, and a significant portion of their income pays for their housing expenses, leaving little left over for anything else. So if a Veteran needs to replace his Sunday dress clothes because they’re threadbare, we hit a menswear store. Our goal is to fill in wherever there’s a need. Our group has been supporting these Veterans for almost six years now, and we’ve developed quite a rapport with these gentlemen.”

One encounter a few years ago has stayed with Jay. A longtime resident at the group home was withdrawn and perpetually silent. “The house manager told me he’d been there for nine years, and had never heard this man speak to anyone,” says Jay. But Jay noticed the man perked up when he heard live music. “We bring maracas and tambourines and get the guys involved when we play. This guy always seemed to be the first one to show up and grab a maraca when we were setting up.”

Because Jay cooks the dinners, he arrives at the home before his volunteers. “One day I was alone in the kitchen cooking dinner when this particular guy quietly walked in. I said hello, not expecting a reply. But he says to me, `Who do you like in the Super Bowl?’ I thought, who knew you could talk!”

Jay says it’s a moment he’ll never forget. To this day, the man only speaks to volunteers from Jay’s group − not other members of the house or the regular staff, just his group. “After three years of us faithfully visiting and not asking him for anything, he finally decided that we were worth talking to,” says Jay. “Words can’t express the honor I felt at having been able to earn his trust.”

Jay says his friends often ask how he finds the time to cook the meals and do other things for these Veterans each month. “My answer is always the same: I can’t think of anything else that I could be doing where I can say I absolutely make a difference in another person’s quality of life,” says Jay. “I always leave Josephine House feeling better than I did when I walked in.”

Jay Mills gets ready to serve a gourmet meal to senior Vets.

Veterans with thankful hearts gather round the table for a fantastic meal.

Jay's band makes merry music for the holidays. Pick up a maraca and join in!