Army veteran Robert Tompkins works as an assistant manager for Veterans Support Organization (VSO) in Myrle Beach, S.C., helping to raise tens of thousands of dollars for unemployed veterans in his community and across the nation.
It is hard to believe, but less than 10 months ago, the 38-year-old was homeless, living out of his car in a parking lot. Disabled with a bad back and shoulder and unable to find a steady job, he was left cold, depressed and penniless -- not sure where his next meal would come from.
Tompkins seemed hopeless about his future, until he came across a job opening with VSO in Daytona Beach, Fla. He got hired right away to raise donations for VSO’s work and housing programs as well as for worthy veterans’ causes. Within days, he earned enough money to live in a hotel and later in an apartment. And, just five months later, he was promoted to assistant manager in VSO’s South Carolina chapter.
“I’m so grateful for my job,” he says. “I was homeless and had nowhere to go. VSO got me off the streets. They got me back to working and gave me the financial security to get back on my feet.”
He is one of hundreds of struggling veterans, as well as other individuals, who are being assisted by VSO every day. The organization helps veterans bounce back from the downward spiral of unemployment, mental health problems, drug abuse and homelessness by providing them with jobs, housing and counseling.
“We literally change lives – often in a matter of days or weeks,” says Richard VanHouten, VSO’s founder and CEO. “We put our heart into creating programs that get veterans working again.”
Following his honorable discharge from the military because of an injury, Tompkins had a hard time making a living as he went from job to job as a cab driver and general contractor in his native upstate New York. Even with an associate’s degree in management, he couldn’t find a stable work. Eventually, there was no work at all, and so, he drove his car to Daytona and lived in it, until answering the VSO job advertisement.
Today, the soft-spoken former Army private has ambitious plans to someday work as a chapter manager for VSO, own a home, and settle down with the right person. He loves living in a trailer home in Myrle Beach with a big yard that is only a few miles from the ocean. He attends church regularly and has become part of a community.
Yet, what Tompkins loves just as much is the ability to put other veterans back to work. He has personally hired unemployed and poor veterans for VSO’s fundraising jobs and has seen them improve their lives.
“It’s very fulfilling to help other veterans,” he says. “I’m in a good place for the first time in many years.”