‘MHALA Came Through for Me’
As a young girl living in New York City, Dee dreamed of going to California and figured that the best way to get there was to enlist. She spent five years in the US Marine Corps, stationed in El Toro. When she was honorably discharged, Dee — whose father is also an Army and Air Force Veteran — knew there were organizations who could help her as she returned to civilian life.
“Going from military to civilian life was a big transition,” says Dee. “It can be a cruel world. I slept on a lot of couches. If you don’t have a good temperament, you can get crushed. I had to figure out where I needed to be.”
Although programs to help Veterans were scarce in the 80s, Dee connected with agencies that helped her stay on her feet. She worked in banking, the US Postal Service, and, later, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Then, she says, “I got into a little bit of trouble in my 30s. I moved to Palmdale and that’s when I ran into Mental Health America of Los Angeles.
“There was a point where I was between jobs — I wanted to start my own business and had to upgrade my commercial driver’s license,” Dee explains. “MHALA connected me to educational programs and other services that helped me upgrade my license and helped me get my own truck. They are the greatest resource.
“MHALA also helped me out temporarily with rental assistance. That really pulled me through,” she adds. “MHALA came through for me. They do so much. They have everything for you, but you really have to be proactive about your wellbeing.”
As Dee began to find her way in the Antelope Valley, she met fellow Veterans and was surprised at the impact MHALA and its Military Resource Center have in the community. “Whenever there’s something military-related taking place in the area, you’re always going to see an MHALA stand and information being shared. They are always helping.”
Inspired by the help they have received and the needs of this particular population, Dee and an Air Force Veteran teamed up to form Life Source Oasis, a nonprofit organization in Palmdale that will provide temporary housing — as well as wraparound services — for homeless Veteran women.
“When I left the military, I needed someone to help me. Before I found MHALA, I stayed in my car a few times. That’s why Life Source Oasis is so important to me,” says Dee. “I don’t want other women to have to do that. I want to help.
“MHALA recognizes people and the progress they make,” she adds. “I went to MHALA’s Golden Bell Awards in 2019 and was so moved by all the people they help.”
In 2020, Dee became MHALA’s Chimbole Champion. The award goes to an individual who, through their own recovery, demonstrate great leadership and become a role model for others. She hopes that in the future she can team up with MHALA to help Veterans get mental health services and other types of assistance.
“I can’t think of an organization more fit for the task,” she says. “I’ve got nothing but high praise for MHALA.”