Raji Rykert: Finding Help for Homeless Veterans and Disabled Adults
I am thrilled to share with you a Success Story interview with Raji Rykert. Raji is on a mission to help homeless Veterans and disabled adults.
About Raji RykertRaji Rykert is an extraordinary businesswoman with over 40 years of accomplishments that included the following: One of the first minority female businesswomen who owned and operated an Altadena Drive dairy and drive-thru gas station. In her first year of flipping real estate, she achieved outcomes that only seasoned investors could hope for. She was mentored by some of corporate America’s finest influencers and thought leaders which resulted in a long and prosperous career innovating and leading in the healthcare industry. Taking all the lessons she learned and the successes she accomplished over the course of 35 years in business, she has now turned her focus to adding to her legacy for helping others.
Helping Homeless VeteransHow did you get started with Helping America Now? She is the founder of Helping America Now, a nonprofit designed to help US Veterans and mentally disabled adults find empowerment and independence by providing financial scholarships that can be used for education and general living assistance. While working with these individuals on a day to day basis, it became evident that “the system” was set up to keep them dependent and Raji wanted to help them become independent. As a result, she immediately set out to identify ways to help her clients find empowerment and achieve their own personal and financial goals. HAN has a wonderful mission, what inspired you to help homeless veterans? My father-in-law is a former veteran and I have many friends who are either retired veterans or are married to a current or former veteran. As a citizen of a free country, I realize that our freedom comes with a price and our veterans are people who sacrificed years of their lives to be a part of something that protected our freedoms. Can you share a little bit about your work and how you are helping veterans? I work with a couple of housing vendors to provide housing for homeless veterans who are in the “rapid re-housing program”. At these facilities, they are provided with a clean, comfortable, safe place to live. In the full-service housing program, participants receive healthy, organic meals and assistance with procuring services that will help them in the long term. For mentally disabled adults, it is similar, once they are provided with a safe, comfortable place to live and get consistent follow up medical and psychiatric support services, they start to thrive. It has been extremely satisfying to watch people transform. When we first started working with veterans, many of them were traumatized by the experience of having been homeless and struggling to survive. Once they were housed, getting excellent quality nutrition and working with positive, uplifting people, the “sparkle” returned to their eyes, they laughed more and started to have hope for the future. Do you have a triumph you would like to share? One mentally disabled woman who suffered from debilitating psychiatric conditions including severe depression lost 40 lbs. and got off all diabetic medications. As her health began to improve, she started looking for a job. HAN subsidized a scholarship to help her learn some basic skills to assist her with becoming more marketable in the workforce. In another example, a homeless veteran was living in a sober living treatment facility owned by the VA. He was two months behind on his storage and car payments and the situation looked bad. After speaking with his case manager and learning that his VA benefits were going to kick in within the next two or three weeks, HAN provided a scholarship to bring his two accounts current and pre-pay both accounts for another month in advance. This enabled him to land on his feet and position him for a better outcome. His fiancé, who is in nursing school, started crying. They were overwhelmed by the kindness and help they received from people they did not know. What challenges are you facing in helping veterans and mentally disabled adults? As with many great causes, sometimes the needs are greater than the finances that are available. Since we are just starting our campaign to let people know about us, much of the funding has come from my own personal resources with the rest coming from private benefactors and government grants. My goal is to share this message and find more people who like me, are passionate about helping these types of individuals. More funding will mean helping more people. I’m proud to say that 100% of our donations go directly to the scholarships. Is there something you learned from running a non-profit that you found surprising? I was surprised to see how high the “administrative costs” can be for some non-profit organizations (varies from 10% to 35%). 100% of HAN’s proceeds goes to the recipients. What does a typical day look like?
- Researching and applying for grants.
- Sending out “thank you” notes to donors.
- Interviewing applicants (or their case managers) to determine eligibility.
- Networking with other business organizations in the local community to grow HAN’s influence and reach to other nearby business leaders.