Veterans in need have a chance to learn of services and opportunities April 11 and 12 at the Spring Veterans Conference at the Harvest Bible Chapel in Crystal Lake.
The conference runs from 9 a.m. through 4 p.m. both days at the chapel located at 580 Tracy Trail. The conference is free to veterans whether they register or walk in.
The conference is hosted by the National Association of Systems Administrations Education Corp. in Crystal Lake (NASA Education Corp.) which will feature veteran service providers, legal counseling, housing assistance information and more for displaced veterans. Federal agency assistance will be offered by a constituent services advocate from Congressman Donald Manzuello’s office.
Housing at Country Inn & Suites in Crystal Lake will be provided at no cost for attendees on April 11 and transportation will be provided at various pick-up points. Free clothing, military gear, hair cuts, massages, meals and the use of shower facilities will be available on both days.
NASA has been hosting the veterans conferences twice annually for the past five years, previously at YMCA Camp Algonquin which has closed.
NASA Executive Director and Owner John Blanchard said not having the conference, referred to as a Stand Off, was not an option.
This year 380 veterans have already registered for the conference and 140 have reserved the free overnight accommodations. Blanchard said he expects many more that will show up during the days of the Stand Off which attracts veterans from Northern Illinois and Crown Point, Ind.
It’s not just for veterans who have been recently discharged. Veterans who served in recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to Vietnam and WWII and the Korean War are welcomed.
Many of the veterans who attend the Stand Offs are homeless or jobless after serving their country, something Blanchard hopes will change for those who come to the event.
“The people that attend the conference couldn’t have it any worse,” he said.
Blanchard is an eight-year Navy veteran who found himself homeless in 2005. When he got back on his feet he resolved to help others in need.
NASA focuses on disabled and displaced veterans and those without housing or jobs to become integrated into the community by offering work/training programs and providing trainers and co-workers to act as role models.
It offers veterans a way to connect with the Veterans Administration and community programs help those in need transition into their local communities.
The nonprofit organization is funded through Nasa, Inc., of which Blanchard is CEO, and private donors.
Program Director Amy Johnson said the first Stand Off in 2005 has grown quickly from the 28 veterans who attended then.
And while she said she has seen some vets returning to the Stand Offs, they are doing better than they did the first time they came.
This year’s event is somewhat of a departure from the previous Stand Offs held in Camp Algonquin. At that time vets visited different booths of providers and services; now at the Harvest Bible Chapel it is large enough to permit a conference-style approach where service participants can give the entire audience a presentation of how they can help.
There will be some familiar presenters as well as new ones, Johnson said.
Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center, Kodner Law Offices, John Marshall Law School, the U.S. and Illinois Dept. of Veterans Affairs, the Illinois Child Support Division, VET Center, Operation Freedom, Inc., Easter Seals Veterans Services and more will be at next week’s conference.
Johnson added that individuals are welcome to donate food to the event by calling NASA at 866-338-4968 or just showing up at the event.
“The individuals coming for assistance are truly heroes,” Blanchard said. “Each and every one of us owes them our gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy.”