Tender Lewis spent nearly six years in the U.S. Army, including two years in Iraq, before the sergeant was sent home on medical disability in 2005.
Her main problem, she said, was anxiety related to post-traumatic stress disorder. She also developed hearing problems and sometimes heard ringing in her ears, which she attributed to rocket fire.
“I had to turn the radio up real loud, and I couldn’t talk on the phone unless I had my earbuds in,” she said. “And I had trouble at work (pizza delivery) hearing people. They would have to be right in front of me.”
Tender, 38, of Waterloo, apparently didn’t meet requirements to get hearing aids through U.S. Veterans Affairs, so she eventually reached out to Songs4Soldiers. The nonprofit organization spent $4,000 to buy Tender two hearing aids. She now can hear the voices of her two children, ages 17 and 19, as well as everyday sounds she missed before.
“I still have a lot of military in me, so I didn’t want to ask for help,” she said. “I try to be independent. I never wanted out (of the service). It’s something they made me do.”
Songs4Soldiers President Dustin Row often deals with such reluctance by veterans who don’t like “hand-outs.” But in the past year, the organization has spent $28,000 to help 14 in need. Assistance took the form of dentures, kids clothes, food for a service dog and even payments to landlords for apartments or houses.
“The V.A. helps them find affordable housing, and what we do is help get them on the right foot by paying their security deposits and a month or two of rent,” said Dustin, 31, an Iraq War veteran who lives in Columbia.
The organization’s biggest fundraiser is the annual Songs4Soldiers Benefit Concert in Columbia. This year, it’s moving from the Schnucks parking lot to Bolm-Schuhkraft City Park. Four bands will take the stage between 4 and 11 p.m. Saturday. The suggested donation is $10 (free for veterans and children 12 and under). There will be bounce houses and a rock-climbing wall for kids. Local vendors will sell food and drinks.
“We’ll have a 3-acre grassy area instead of a 1-acre parking lot,” said Dustin, who works for the Columbia street department. “It’s just going to be a much nicer venue, where people can bring a blanket, sit on the grass and enjoy the music.”
Pettycash Junction (Tom Petty and Johnny Cash tribute) will kick off the music, followed by Super Majik Robots (rock/mashups), Where’s Charlie? (indie rock) and Superjam (high-energy St. Louis band).
Proceeds from last year helped buy clothes for veteran Valerie E. Young and her two children, ages 3 and 5. She was running short on cash while finishing her master’s degree in criminal justice administration at Lindenwood University.
“Children grow every day, and (my kids) were outgrowing their clothes, and I didn’t have enough money for new ones,” said Valerie, 33, of East St. Louis.
Valerie served in the U.S. Army National Guard and later the U.S. Army from 2002 to 2010. She helped with Hurricane Katrina relief before going to Iraq for three years. She has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Valerie is waiting to hear if she will be able to work for a law firm through a Veterans Administration fellowship program called “The Mission Continues.”
“I wrote a poem about my experience with (Songs4Soldiers),” Valerie said. “That’s my form of expression. That’s my therapy.”
Songs4Soldiers helps veterans with financial problems, injuries, illnesses and a wide variety of other needs.
One of Dustin’s favorite projects in the past year was sending two disabled veterans for a week-long retreat in Aspen, Colo., where they learned to ski and snowboard from top professionals.
“It’s a pretty good feeling when you get to call (veterans) and, in a lot of cases, change their lives,” Dustin said. “We’ve been fortunate to be one of those first or second steps, sending them in the right direction.”
By Valerie E. Young
“Songs4Soldiers is a nonprofit organization that assists veterans in need,
A program that provides a voice and a change for those to succeed.
The organization is here to create personal relationships for the soldiers who are warriors,
Helping out those who have climbed, reached, and overcame several barriers.
Its OK to be a soldier in need, for this program offers a remarkable helping hand,
Providing such items as clothing, rent assistance and music therapy, it’s an efficient plan.
Mainly on a volunteer basis, many are giving their time freely,
Not consumed with material gain nor is labeled as greedy.
Open access so veterans can reach out to the staff via email or phone call,
Providing a wide range of communication, also dedication and hope for all.
No matter the race, color or creed, Song4Soldiers’ reach is unlimited,
Their aim is to help the living by honoring the deceased, which entails such commitment.
Let us continue to embrace a program that opens its heart, for this is where we belong,
Providing a safe haven, opportunity for us to relax, and display for soldiers can sing that special song.”
At a glance
What: 3rd annual Songs4Soldiers Benefit Concert
When: 4 to 11 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bolm-Schuhkraft City Park in Columbia
Donation: $10 (free for veterans and children 12 and under)
Bands: Pettycash Junction (Tom Petty, Johnny Cash tribute), Super Majik Robots (rock/mashups), Where’s Charlie? (indie rock) and Superjam (high-energy St. Louis band)
Other activities: Kids face-painting, rock-climbing wall and bounce houses
Allowed items: Sealed water bottles and lawn chairs
Available for purchase: Food, soft drinks, alcoholic beverages and T-shirts
Rain date: 2 to 9 p.m. Sunday
Information: Visit www.songs4soldiersstl.org or the Facebook page, email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 618-719-2333