At 5:00 pm on May 23, the dining room at Detroit’s Emmanuel House was filled with sounds of laughter and conversation. Streamers and fiesta-themed decorations around the room signified that tonight’s dinner would be special, with a festive banner hanging on the wall announcing the event — “Chili Cook Off: You Be the Judge.”
Endeavor Air Flight Attendant Nadine Jones gathered the attention of the crowd, led them in grace, and explained the rules of the cook off. Then, more than 50 Veterans made their way through the cafeteria line to be served.
Every month for nearly two years, Jones has made these dinners possible at Emmanuel House, a shelter for homeless Veterans. This particular dinner was extra special, a gathering of Endeavor employees who, inspired by Jones’ passion, joined in supporting the cause. The meal – marked by four different types of chili – was coordinated by fellow DTW Flight Attendant Brenda Ellis, and nearly a dozen other Endeavor employees joined in decorating, serving up food, and engaging the residents in conversation.
As the ripple of support grew, Ellis even solicited the help of two friends, who drove four hours from Cleveland for the occasion. The event was a true testament to the power of one person to inspire others and make a difference.
“Nadine inspires compassion in all of us; she has a heart and a drive to ensure her Veterans are treated with respect and dignity,” said Kathleen DiCiccio, Inflight Base Manager, DTW. “Her goal is to provide a simple meal, a warm bed, and a gift of life essentials. That’s it. How simple, right?”
In advance of the event, Team DTW also collected donations of linens and toiletries to support the Veterans. Packaged towels, bed sheets, blankets, and pillows were raffled off after dinner, drawing smiles and appreciation from the proud winners.
Jones, who has been with the company for 14 years, comes from a large military family: Her grandfather served in World War II, Korea, and two tours in Vietnam; her uncle served 31 years in the Air Force; and her cousins are currently in the armed forces. Still, Jones said that her own involvement with Veterans was something she fell into by chance.
“A friend of mine had an AmeriCorps position open in his office and talked to me about the position; it totally happened by accident,” said Jones, whose AmeriCorps role as Veteran’s Resource Navigator was to connect Veterans to the assistance they needed. “Some needed items that we weren’t offering with our program, so I began gathering items on my own. I realized that the need was so great in the Detroit area that I needed to do something to help, so I started my own non-profit to assist them.”
The Love a Michigan Vet Project was born.
Officially established as a non-profit organization in March 2016, the Love a Michigan Vet Project provides community-based services to Veterans in the Detroit area. From providing meals at shelters to furnishing the homes of Veterans in transition, Jones estimates that she reaches about 250 vets each month.
And, from time to treasure, everything is 100% donated.
“Everyone I meet has to hear my story. Everywhere I go, I talk to people and I tell them what I do – In the line at the grocery store, on the street,” described Jones, who said social media outreach has also been key to her success. “Every month we’ve been able to provide for our Veterans thanks to donations – many from random strangers. You never know who you will meet that wants to help.”
Jones’ ever-growing circle of support leads to an ever-growing reach of impact. In addition to providing Veterans’ resources and planning the monthly dinners at Emmanuel House, Jones also coordinates the sending of care packages to those deployed overseas, holiday parties for shelter residents, and an annual “Female Stand Down” event geared to helping women who served.
Equally contagious as her passion is her tireless energy. Besides working a full-time schedule and leading the charge for Veterans, Nadine is pursuing a degree in sociology at the University of Michigan. One day, said Jones, she hopes to open her own Veterans home in the area.
“There are so many homeless Veterans in Michigan and there’s not enough shelters to place them,” said Jones, who wants to combat the stigma surrounding homelessness that might inhibit people from getting involved. “There are all these preconceived notions about homeless people, but they each have a story, and there are so many reasons why someone can be homeless. I love bringing people together who can share a meal and just have a conversation.”
Having touched thousands of lives over the past few years, Jones says there are many more Veterans who still need help, and she will keep working to connect them with the support they need. According to Jones, it’s a privilege to give back to those who served, and an honor to be welcomed into their community.
“In the military world, it can be hard to infiltrate their circle sometimes, but they can see that my heart and intentions are pure, so they respect me enough to let me in,” described Jones, who said the support from the Endeavor community has been overwhelming. “As a Flight Attendant, I take care of people every day, and this is one more way to do that.”
“No request is too great for Nadine,” said DiCiccio. “No hesitation, she has one direction and that is forward. I have never met anyone like her.” ♦