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How Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge led to $20,000 grant for this Richmond

Darren Simmons: 'A kind word often goes unsaid, but never goes unheard'
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Posted at 5:57 PM, Oct 05, 2022

RICHMOND, Va. -- Darren B. Simmons, a 79-year-old Army veteran from Massachusetts, has a smile on his face as he sits in the lobby of Liberation Veteran Services (LVS) in Richmond's Manchester neighborhood.

The 38-bed shelter is his new home, after experiencing months of homelessness.

"I went to Walmart, got a pillow, blanket, one of those mattress pads. Tried to make it work. Because if you sleep on the grass, you wake up in the morning, and your stuff is wet because of the dew on the ground," Simmons said.

A phone call brought him to LVS.

"I said, 'A bed? Food? You know, a place to sleep?' I took all advantage of that," Simmons said.

Every year, LVS assists about 100 veterans get the housing and health care they need.

Every week, dozens of those in its care receive free transportation to and from the McGuire VA Hospital, where many of them receive physical and mental health support.

But as of now, the nonprofit has only one working vehicle, a donated minivan that often gives driver Toni Hutchinson trouble.

"The engine light's on, air pump light on, we need a new vehicle," Hutchinson said as he drove his normal route to the hospital.

"We use it when somebody's transitioning to housing. This is our U-Haul too," Hutchinson said. "Really. We let the seats down and we have to make multiple trips to get all their stuff to where they're going."

Hutchinson said he sees dozens of veterans in Liberation's care like Simmons that struggle to get around using the city's bus system, many of them unaware of what routes to take or what to do if a bus service is late or stopped.

"Mr. Simmons would really be in a worse situation, where even if the bus wasn't free, you don't know your way around, it's hard to navigate these systems," Hutchinson said.

The nonprofit received a $20,000 grant from Pocahantas Parkway. The grant was presented in honor of the parkway's integral connection to the iconic Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge.

The money will likely be used to upgrade their transportation, but LVS founder Jay Patrick says, it's about more than just navigating veterans to and from appointments and interviews.

"It's not just transportation alone, it's the navigation that we offer as an organization because we've been learning, working with the VA hospital for the last 9 years. We know the liaisons, we know the doctors, we know the health professionals," Patrick said. "A veteran who may not have a relationship with LVS may have trouble navigating the VA, they may be on a 90-day waiting list, they may be on a six-month waiting list just waiting to get seen, whereas we have the relationship already built."

Patrick said LSV is working to build an upgraded facility to better meet its clients' needs.

Simmons said, it's the short ride to and from hospital, and wherever else he needs to go, that's a simple act of kindness, he wishes to pay forward.

“A kind word often goes unsaid, but never goes unheard," Simmons said. 

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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