A native of Rochester, New York, Mr. Sandy Walker had never heard of York, PA.
As an air traffic controller for the United States Air Force and a Vietnam veteran, he was accustomed to moving around, but knew he needed a stable home for his growing family.
While traveling to Washington D.C. to visit relatives, he experienced car trouble and had to make a quick stop in York City. His daughter, York City Councilwoman, Sandie Walker, his namesake (almost!), says, “my father fell in love with the small town feel of York and saw a lot of opportunities here for our family.”
After relocating, Mr. Walker bought a small business and immediately began volunteering with a local church downtown. Being a true civic-minded community member, Mr. Walker also became involved with several nonprofit organizations in York County.
His greatest passion, however, was to help fellow veterans. He began meeting many Vietnam veterans who were facing emergency situations and was shocked to learn that they were unaware of the services and resources available to them through local and federal agencies.
In his quest to do more, Mr. Walker accepted an invitation to serve on the board of directors for the York County Veterans Outreach organization by its founder, Susan Byrnes, also the founder of the Byrnes Health Education Center. Sharing a passion for helping veterans, Susan encouraged Mr. Walker to explore options and opportunities to offer veterans shelter and housing.
Identifying this need in the community led “Mr. Sandy” – as he became lovingly known in the community – to open Veterans Helping Hand, a non-profit organization offering emergency services such as food, clothing, and shelter.
In 2014, Mr. Sandy began renovations on the former Helping Hands Center with the vision of opening the first emergency shelter and drop-in center for veterans in York County.
Sadly, Mr. Sandy didn’t live to see his dream become a reality. He passed away in
March of 2015. But because of the relationships he had built within the community, a team of committed volunteers – most of whom were veterans themselves or had family members who served their country – rose to the occasion to make his vision a reality. It was through their efforts that the renovations continued and the building officially opened, just 6 months after his passing. It was re-named, Mr. Sandy’s Homeless Veterans Center.
The emergency center holds monthly food distributions, weekend dinners, provides clothing, household supplies, laundry facilities, showers, and resources to connect veterans with the York County Department of Veteran Affairs. The services offered through the VA include veteran benefits assistance, services for veterans with disabilities, and information about medical care, housing, insurance, and education benefits.
Mr. Sandy’s mission to “help homeless veterans help themselves” lives on thanks to generous donations and the dedication of his family, friends, and committed volunteers. Within seven years of opening, Mr. Sandy’s Homeless Veterans Center has been able to expand beyond emergency services, and now offers safe, transitional, and long-term housing to veterans.
Since learning about the organization, local philanthropist, Carol Wagman, has used the donor-advised Carol Wagman Fund to support Veterans Helping Hand with the purchase of two additional homes in the city, bringing the total number of single-family homes donated to the organization to three.
Homes for veterans are selected based on their history and necessity, with the goal of meeting long-term housing needs, with little to no transiency. The current economy of rising rents and inflation has significantly increased the risk of homelessness for low-income families. “Affordable housing is needed now, more than ever. Meeting the needs of Veterans in emergency situations will always be the priority of the Veterans Helping Hand organization and this cannot be accomplished without the support of donors who believe in taking care of the military service members who have committed to serve country over self,” shared Sandie Walker.
To learn more about Mr. Sandy’s Homeless Veterans Center, please visit www.veteranshelpinghand.org
Hours of Operation:
Monday-Friday: 9:00 AM-4:00 PM
Scheduled Weekend Dinners: 5:00 PM