Exploring Leadership, Growth, and Holistic Support in Veteran Services
In this insightful Q&A session, we delve into the remarkable journey and impactful experiences of Chad Cheshire, the Director of Homelessness & Prevention Services at Volunteers of America (VOA) Southeast. From his military service to his pivotal role in shaping VOA Southeast’s Veteran Services programs, Chad shares personal stories, challenges, and triumphs. Explore the unique approach VOA Southeast takes in providing holistic support, and witness the transformative impact of Chad’s leadership on communities and the lives of those served.
Can you share your personal journey and how you came to be involved with VOA Southeast?
After serving in the military for eight and one-half years, I transitioned from military service to civilian life. My transition was not easy as I was unemployed for a whole year before getting my first job outside of military service working with the State of Kentucky unemployment office as a claim’s agent. During those 12 months, I was in-between couch surfing with friends and literally homeless, sleeping in my vehicle for approximately 3 months. After working with the state of Kentucky, I eventually was promoted to working with homeless veterans and employment. At this time, I really enjoyed working with my fellow veterans and I wanted to advance my career. I found Volunteers of America Mid States had a management position for homeless housing programs in Louisville, KY and I started working with VOA Mid-States. After two years with Mid-States, VOA Southeast had a job posting for a director-level position with the SSVF program. I had a desire to really have a large impact on an organization and local community in a way that leaned on my leadership experience from the military and making programs my own. Though the grants I worked on with Mid-States at that time were much larger and more secured with federal partnerships and outcomes, I decided to take a risk and relocated to VOA Southeast.
What motivated you to join VOA Southeast, and how has your experience been so far?
My family and I were really looking to move to a more southern area from Kentucky, and I was at the point of my career where I wanted to be very hands-on with the services being offered to homeless veterans, the ability to grow an organization, and really make a program my own. VOA Southeast leadership really stressed that this was an option if I decided to take the position opening with them in their Veteran Services program. At the time of being offered the position, my wife and I were expecting our youngest child, Kaylee, and we really couldn’t relocate at the time VOA Southeast leadership wanted us to. However, we were able to have me come on board for three months as a consultant before my daughter’s birth and start effecting daily operations, reviewing the policies and procedures, reviewing financials, and everything that encompasses managing a federal grant. During this three-month period, I really learned to trust VOA Southeast leadership and make impactful changes even before my start date. With the ability to have trust in the organizational leadership and to see that those leaders were really taking my recommendations seriously, I knew I was going to be happy with my new role. Once my daughter was born, we moved the very next week from Kentucky to Georgia, and I started officially as the SSVF (Supportive Services for Veterans Families) Program Director.
Over the past eight years, I have really enjoyed my experience with VOA Southeast, and we have seen such a growth in Veterans Services programs across Georgia and Alabama. What initially started as a small 800k grant with only five employees and a service area of fourteen counties has now grown to multiple federal grants focusing on Veteran Homelessness to include SSVF GA, which is $2.1 million, SSVF AL $1 million, a Department of Labor (DOL) funded Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP), and a local VA funded Grant Per Diem Transition in Place grant. Over thirty counties are now being provided services in Georgia and Alabama with the total number of employees for these programs now at twenty-two. Our clients served were initially 150 homeless veterans, and now our Veterans Services program under my supervision as Director of Homelessness & Prevention Programs is over 600 veterans per year and 500 family members.
Can you describe a specific moment or experience within VOA Southeast that had a significant impact on you personally?
Each and every day has a significant impact on me. However, a major moment was changing policies that allowed us to have access to same-day housing for homeless veterans at our 1st VA Stand-Down. This event is held annually and brings in community partners in the service areas and provides a holistic-based service event to all the homeless veterans in the community. Previously, we would identify a homeless veteran and work towards housing them within 30 days after we identified them. However, with some recommendations to Senior Leadership at VOA Southeast, we were able to create a new system where we had access to funds immediately the same day. This allowed us to identify homeless veterans for the first time at this event and have them housed that day, with move-in items such as bedding, dishes, and basic supplies. This was a major change in our approach to housing homeless veterans and has impacted us moving forward as we strive to do same-day housing with every veteran that VOA Southeast provides services for. Though each situation is unique and provides its own challenges, our goal is same-day housing with the new policy changes. We have seen significant increases over the seven years since implementing this new process.
As someone with a lived experience, how do you contribute to the work and mission of VOA Southeast?
As a previous homeless combat veteran with significant physical and mental disabilities from my time in service, I have been able to have a significant contribution to our services offered to veterans in our communities to affect how services are delivered each day from all staff. My own experiences though may be different than a potential veteran being served allows me to relate and understand what they may be going through. This has allowed me to greatly contribute to our philosophy that staff put into place when working with our nation’s finest. Through a holistic, housing-first philosophy, we are able to provide direct customer service care that focuses on client choice, meeting the veteran where they are, harm reduction, and services that provide not only for their immediate housing situation but also focus on all their needs and barriers to housing, including mental health such as PTSD, moral injury, substance abuse, employment, and overall reintegration into their community with a sense of belonging within their identity of their community.
In your opinion, what makes VOA Southeast unique in terms of the services it provides and its approach to helping individuals?
The overall sense of those that provide direct services truly care for the individuals that they work with across all program services. A sense that each staff member wants to provide the best services to each individual based on their needs and desires.
How do you see your role within VOA Southeast contributing to the larger community or the lives of the individuals the organization serves?
My role within VOA Southeast plays a large role in the communities that we provide services to directly. I serve on multiple committees and currently serve as the Chairperson for the Board of Directors of the Department of Community Affairs, Georgia Balance of State Continuum of Care, which drives the entire focus for homeless individuals for 152 counties in the state of Georgia to meet national goals and strategic plans. This allows me to have a direct involvement in the future services to all homeless individuals, not just veterans, throughout the state of Georgia. VOA Southeast Leadership has entrusted me with striving to grow our services and have a much larger impact in each community that we provide services to.
Chad Cheshire, VOA Southeast’s Director of Homelessness & Prevention Services, has been with VOA Southeast for 8 years, and prior to that worked with VOA Mid-States in Louisville, KY for 2 years. Chad currently oversees the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families grants in Georgia and Alabama, VA’s Grant per Diem Transition in Place, and DOL’s Homeless Veterans Reintegration Programs in Georgia. Chad is a military combat Veteran and served for 8.5 years in the military as an Intelligence Analyst. He has a Bachelor of Science in Religion with minors in Counseling and Psychology, and a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling with a Leadership Cognate. He currently serves as the Chairperson for the Board of Directors of the Department of Community Affairs, Georgia Balance of State Continuum of Care, and serves on numerous committees across the state of Georgia focusing on Homelessness. Chad is also a Commissioned Minister with VOA. He enjoys reading, Jeep off-roading, and spending time with his wife, Jennifer, and two children Abilyn and Kaylee.