Former homeless find their voice, new direction in veterans choir
Veterans in the “New Directions” choir will share their inspiring message while performing during the closing ceremony of the 2016 Rose Parade.
Vietnam veteran George Hill never expected to be homeless. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the former Marine spent 12 years on the streets in Los Angeles. During those times, he often found solace in music.
Today, George and other once-homeless veterans use their music to offer hope and encouragement to other struggling veterans through the New Directions Veterans Choir, which is based in Los Angeles. At the 2016 Rose Parade on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, California, they will entertain audiences around the U.S. as they perform during the closing ceremony, presented by Wells Fargo.
The acapella group of five men and three women was born out of the nonprofit New Directions for Veterans, whose mission is to empower men and women who served in the military, and their families, to lead productive and fulfilling lives. The choir, founded by George 17 years ago, sings doo-wop, soul, traditional gospel, and popular music.
Gregory Scott, president and CEO of the nonprofit, says, “Having our choir featured in the Rose Parade will highlight the work that we do for our veterans.”
Help for veterans
All of the men choir members were previously homeless and received services from New Directions for Veterans; all the women members have close family ties to the military. The nonprofit works with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other public and private organizations to provide housing, legal services, counseling, job training, and other resources for veterans.
That’s the purpose of our organization: to make sure we eradicate homelessness for veterans.
More than 4,000 veterans are homeless in Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Times. New Directions for Veterans was started in 1992 by two former Vietnam veterans, and many of the individuals the group works with today served during the Vietnam era, Gregory says.
“The fact that we still have homeless veterans who served during that time period says a lot about the work that we need to do,” Gregory says. “That’s the purpose of our organization: to make sure we eradicate homelessness for veterans.
“They fought for this country and understand leadership and what it means to have a strong work ethic. It’s wrong to assume that any veteran wants to just live on the street. We have to be here to help heal the veterans.”
The healing power of music
After George came to New Directions for Veterans for help, the founder of the nonprofit suggested he start a choir. Since then, the acapella group has completed two national tours, performed on the television show “America’s Got Talent” in 2010, and been featured on “NBC Nightly News” and E! Entertainment Television. The choir also performed during the 2000 Democratic National Convention.
“We like the message we’re able to bring,” George says. “We like to show people that yes, you can get your life back, you can recover, and you can be a productive member of society again.”
The choir provides healing and inspiration for audiences as well as members. “I think they’re providing a very valuable service,” says Morgan Ames, producer and vocal arranger for the choir. “They put a face on getting better for veterans. I think that’s tremendously important.”
Wells Fargo’s commitment to veterans
Wells Fargo has a three-prong approach to supporting veterans through housing, financial education, and career placement, and it has committed to employing 20,000 veterans by the year 2020. Wells Fargo supports New Directions for Veterans through $300,000 in donations and providing free financial literacy classes over the past four years.
David Dicristofaro, Wells Fargo’s Lead Region president for Greater Los Angeles, says the company selected the choir to participate in the parade because “It’s such a great opportunity for our team members to see the work we’re doing, as well as for the entire country to see what is happening here in Los Angeles and what needs to be done nationally for our veterans.”