Denise Biers sits at a makeup mirror at Pro Soto Beauty Studios as esthetician Mary Duerden gives tips on applying make up. Biers, a former Army reservist is preparing for a new job – getting a boost of self-confidence after bottoming out in May of 2014.
“It’s almost been like a whirlwind of everything good is happening and it all started – I say it all started with a DUI in Hamilton County,” Biers said.
Biers has struggled with alcohol for 35 years. The possibility of jail time brought her needs into sharp focus – sobriety, a treatment program, and a desire for a stable future. Victor Wakley and Save Our Veterans helped her find a job once before and they were back again to help.
Wakley is not a veteran but has family members who are and his devotion to veterans began about six years ago when his sister’s son Adam returned from a tour of duty in Iraq.
“He literally locked himself in her house for seven months. He wouldn’t come out. And for my nephew – I’m trying to figure out – how do I help this guy? This is – this is over my head," Wakley said. "He wouldn’t go to the VA – I tried on several occasions. He was upset with the government, and I think a lot of veterans are when they’re released from service – they don’t want to be released from service so they’re angry. I didn’t realize it at the time he had post traumatic stress disorder.”
Wakley was determined to help Adam get back on his feet. Knowing that he’d worked in construction before joining the military, Wakley found a construction firm owned by veterans that hired veteran workers and took his reluctant nephew to an interview. They offered him a job on the spot.
“And on our way back to the house he’s like, 'I can’t take that job.' And I said, 'Well why not?' He said, 'I don’t have transportation.'So I said, 'I have an extra van. You can have my van.' And he’s like, 'Well, I don’t have any tools. I sold all my tools before I went in the service.' And I said, 'I’ve got all these construction tools whatever you need I have – and whatever you need that I don’t have I can buy and you can pay me back later.' And he said, 'Well, I guess I don’t have anymore excuses.'”
When Wakley went to check on Adam about a week later, he found him on the job site standing with a clipboard and assigning the other workers jobs. Adam’s life had purpose again.
“I went to my wife and I said, 'This is what happened with Adam – this is how it worked.' And I said, 'There are other veterans out there that need our help.' And so I said, 'I know I’m only one person but I think I can make a difference.' She said, 'O.k., well, what do you want to do?' And I said, 'I want to start a nonprofit called Save Our Veterans. Help more veterans with employment and transitioning,'" Wakley recalled. "She said, 'O.k., well you go do that.' And I said, 'Well, I’m going to need your pension.' And so we did. We drained her pension and started Save Our Veterans and it’s been five years now.”
Save Our Veterans has come a long way – they have a large industrial facility on the near eastside equipped with 44 concrete block training bays for welding and money for the training – but they still lack the welding equipment.
Wakley marches ahead and takes one day at a time to accomplish his mission.
“Our society is too quick to abandon people and throw people under the bus, or just throw them away – we throw everything away," Wakley said. "But what we want to do is show that when organizations care and that everybody matters. You know you can say stuff like No Child Left Behind but – No Adult Left Behind. Nobody should be left behind.”
As Denise Biers awaits word from a Hamilton County court on her DUI charge, she has charted a new course with the support of Wakley and is more optimistic about her future.
“I thank God everyday for my sobriety. I thank him for my disease – which is kinda weird when people say they thank God for their disease – and I thank God for my DUI," Biers said. "I go to AA meetings and everybody laughs at me, or laughs with me, cause it’s just kinda funny but um…yeah it’s um…”
Victor Wakley chimed in, “Saved your life.”
Biers acknowledged, "Did save my life. It really did.”
With the added help of Victor Wakley and Save Our Veterans.
Kind Indiana is an occasional and ongoing WFYI News series. Do you know of story of kindness you’d like to share? Tell us about it at wfyi.org/kindindiana