Last Tuesday marked the ending of a truly remarkable era and the beginning of a new dawn with optimism and hope.
With the closing of SCI-Cresson, a group of grizzled veterans met with the Vietnam Veterans of America’s James A. Crew incarcerated chapter for the last time.
What was unique about this meeting was that it closed a chapter for Vietnam Veterans of America’s Chapter 364 veterans who visited their incarcerated brothers for the past 25 years on a monthly basis.
Four chapter members were there from the beginning (former member Gerry Cocco being the originator of the program) and three additional current members were there also for many of the years.
They are Ralph Gibson, Ken Costlow, Marty Kuhar, Tom Haberkorn, Jim Ostinowsky, George Molnar and myself.
Our two SCI staff coordinators (Chris Danison, Tim Susengill – retired) and others also have visited our incarcerated veterans.
It has been a truly inspiring program for us, and hopefully it has made a difference in at least some inmates’ lives.
One of our pressing points has been the importance of giving back to the community.
Over the past 20 years, Vietnam Veterans of America’s incarcerated chapter members have held yearly fundraising events, with proceeds going to Cambria County Special Olympics.
During this period, we estimate that $22,000 to $27,000 has benefited our local Special Olympians.
Our optimism and hope for our incarcerated was reinforced with a few of our Special Olympics athletes in attendance to thank the inmates personally for the largest fundraising check ($3,280.31) in the program’s history – a truly amazing program-ending gift.
We applaud their efforts.
Although we will no longer be there to encourage, guide and provide a sense of purpose to the inmates as they go to their locations or, in some cases, get paroled, we believe that our efforts can provide the impetus to reclaim a productive and healthy lifestyle.
May God bless and guide our inmates’ journey. We will not only miss monthly visits, but also our annual thank-you treks with our Special Olympians.
Tom Caulfield is regional director of Veterans Leadership Program/Veteran Community Initiatives based at the Hiram G. Andrews Center in Upper Yoder Township.