Linda Megliore of Mount Morris served her country twice: in both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy.
Yet she didn’t realize her country had programs available to serve her when she needed it most.
The floundering economy had taken a toll on her finances, and Megliore found herself on the brink of homelessness.
"I was very depressed," she said. "I thought there was no hope. I was planning to live like a hobo. I was planning to camp down by the river. Now (life is) pretty good. I have moments where I think it might be hopeless, but it’s getting better."
By chance, Megliore had met a friend at the Department of Social Services who told her about Zion House, a transitional-living home in Avon for homeless female veterans that opened about two years ago. Its services are funded in part by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; it also operates on financial and in-kind donations and the sales of its Boadicea goats’ milk spa products.
In addition to providing her with a stable place to stay, staff members at Zion House have arranged transportation to medical appointments, worked out her finances and helped her start back to school to study phlebotomy.
Though Zion House is a nonprofit mission of Zion Episcopal Church in Avon, it has been supported by a variety of area churches, including St. Agnes Parish in Avon, which provided monetary and in-kind donations to help establish the home.
The support of Zion House is one of the many ways that Catholic parishes throughout the diocese have helped those who are serving or have served in the military. Many parishes, schools and such groups as the Knights of Columbus regularly pray for those in the military and for peace around the world and mail care packages to military members on active duty. For instance, students from St. Rita School in Webster annually donate their excess Halloween candy to service members serving overseas.
Each year, St. Agnes School in Avon sponsors a Veterans’ Day breakfast at which veterans and school children interact, said Sister Karen Dietz, pastoral administrator of the parish. Additionally, the school holds an annual Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony that features the participation of many veterans.
"The kids are learning to respect (veterans) and honor their story," Sister Dietz said.
In October, young people in the faith-formation program of St. Peter Roman Catholic Parish in Shortsville, Clifton Springs and Phelps collected 50 decks of playing cards, 22 squirt guns, 27 puzzle books, 40 travel games and other items to give to Bloomfield’s Blue Star Mothers group for distribution to service members, said Sherry Brown, faith-formation coordinator and youth minister for the parish. The donations are just one in a series of service projects to help the parish’s young people connect their actions to the corporal works of mercy, she said.
Father William Leone, pastor of St. Jerome Parish in East Rochester who served as a military chaplain in Kosovo in 2007, said service members are buoyed by the arrival of care packages.
"It lifts the soldiers’ spirits up, and they feel that people know they are there and are supporting them," Father Leone said.
When those service members return home, they often face higher rates of unemployment as compared to their nonveteran counterparts. For instance, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, male and female veterans ages 18 to 24 had unemployment rates of 29.1 percent and 36.1 percent, respectively, in 2011. Their nonveteran male and female counterparts had unemployment rates of 17.6 percent and 14.5 percent, respectively.
Veterans also have higher rates of homelessness, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which states that one of out every six people in homeless shelters are veterans. Uniting local female veterans with jobs and long-term housing has been the aim of Zion House, which has had a 75-percent success rate of placing more than 30 women in permanent or supportive housing, said the Rev. Kelly Ayer, director of Zion House and a U.S. Army veteran.
Many of the women at the home had experienced post-traumatic stress disorder or military sexual assault trauma, the Rev. Ayer said. In addition to offering counseling and case management services, the home also offers them the opportunity to produce and sell Boadicea Spa Products in exchange for a rent reduction.
"If they do well, they can take leadership responsibilities," the Rev. Ayer said. "We’ll give them a recommendation. Some of them have had bad work histories, and this is a way to rehabilitate that."
One woman looking forward to a new life thanks to Zion House is Maggie, who requested that her last name not be used. She learned about Zion House while she was living at a homeless shelter in Rochester. Maggie, who served in the Army in the 1980s, had owned her own livery service, but she was assaulted on the job and was unable to continue working. Zion House has helped her cope with the trauma of the attack and plot a destination for her future.
"They have been getting me back on my feet and setting up a career path," she said.
She plans to seek a commercial driver’s license and is just waiting for her paperwork to go through.
"Hurry up and wait — just like the Army," she joked.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For help from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for homeless vets and vets at risk of homelessness, call toll free 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838) or visit va.gov/homeless. To learn more about Zion House, call 585-991-3545 or visit http://zion-house-avon.org and www.boadiceashop.com.