DETROIT, MICH., NOVEMBER. 13, 2018 – Marco’s own Michael St. John, Sales Manager in Michigan, recently facilitated a donation of a VoIP phone system to Vets Returning Home (VRH), a local transitional housing facility for veterans. Alongside Steven Brown, Consulting Systems Engineer, St. John helped install phones, handsets, software, three computers, switches, etc. Brown implemented the equipment, networked the computers and configured Office 365.
St. John commits time for volunteer work that supports veterans, such as an annual golf outing that funds service dogs to help veterans with PTSD. So, when St. John met Sandy Bower, Founder and Volunteer Director of VRH, through a community event, he wanted to contribute.
Soon after, he came in for a tour of VRH. Carrie Heichel, Administrative Assistant at VRH, remembers the day St. John toured the facility: “Sandy answered a bunch of questions, and Michael was really inspired and said he wanted to do whatever he could to help us.”
Indeed, St. John did all in his power to aid them. He knew VRH needed an upgraded phone and email system. By connecting with companies like TechSoup and using his own charitable donations, St. John received funding.
Beginning in early August, St. John and Brown started the implementation at VRH. After their committed work, the project concluded at the end of September. Worth about $4,500, the system greatly improved Vets Returning Home, helping them enact their mission of ending chronic homelessness among veterans in local communities.
Prior to the installation, VRH’s equipment did not have updated functions for them to work smarter and safer. “The system gave them better security over the access of their computers. It allowed them to manage more email accounts, made them PCI compliant and gave them an active directory,” said St. John.
In fact, Bower used to answer calls alone. She was the singular contact for Vets Returning Home and forwarded calls to her personal cell. “All the phones calls came directly to me, and I averaged about 80 calls per day,” Bower explained. But now the phone system directs calls to the right places.
With an automated phone system, callers now press numbers for certain departments. If they want to donate items, schedule a tour, bring in a veteran, etc., the calls are directed to other resources. “We have options with the phone system for the ways that calls are routed. The only calls that get directed to Sandy now are veterans in crisis and social workers assisting veterans,” Heichel said.
Since its inception five years ago, VRH has housed over 1,000 veterans. With 43 beds and all the amenities of a home, the center allows veterans a spot for mental, medical, and financial assistance through volunteer doctors, therapists and social workers. “Once the veterans have disability income or employment, I connect them with government grants to help pay for apartments,” Bower said.
Bower works about 70 hours each week to help veterans in crisis, and the community supports her. “When you save lives, people will pay attention and help me save lives,” she said.
St. John was one of those who paid attention. By implementing the phone and email system, VRH has experienced much improved functionality, which means more time saving lives and less time fighting technology. “It is so much easier to coordinate, maintain and receive emails and calls. I couldn’t log on to the old email system from home or through my phone, but now I can. We have urgent calls and emails that need to be addressed, so it means a lot to me,” Heichel said. She added that she is still thanking Brown and St. John for all their help or reaching out with questions about the system when needed.
As a member of the National Guard for 20 years, St. John feels passionate about assisting fellow veterans: “As a member of the military who is deployed, it is my job to protect my fellow soldiers in the battlefield but also protect them at home.” As a child, St. John’s family was not wealthy, and he saw the kindness of others giving his family some funds for Christmas and birthdays. Since his modest upbringing, St. John wants to extend generosity to others.
“I can make sure nonprofits get the technology they need to run their business,” St. John said. His future goals include starting a campaign of charitable giving in his region and becoming an active member of VRH’s board. “I think members of the military should look into the IT area, as they would have success with it. If anyone has the means to do so, Vets Returning Home operates on a tight budget, and we would love donations for clothes, cars and time.”