Veterans Path to Hope

Harvey MorrisPodcast, VSO Partners

Transcript of Road Home Program: The Podcast, Episode 12

We really have a whatever-it-takes kind of approach.”

Veterans Path To Hope’s Executive Director, Laura Franz, shares how they effectively collaborate with community partners to serve veterans with a variety of resources.

Will Beiersdorf, Executive Director of The Road Home Program at Rush: All right, good day to everyone joining us for the Road Home Program, the podcast. I’m Will Beiersdorf, the Executive Director of the Road Home Program. In today’s Road Home podcast, we are talking with great partner, peer and friend of the Road Home Program, Laura Franz, who is the Executive Director for the Veterans Path To Hope. Right, Laura? Veterans, Veterans Path To Hope.

Laura Franz, Executive Director of Veteran’s Path to Hope: Yep.

Will Beiersdorf: You are, you’re in Crystal Lake, Illinois. And we’re so grateful to have you on with us today, Laura, to learn more about what you do at Veterans Path to Hope. And just so people know formerly known as TLS.

Laura Franz: TLS Veterans.

Will Beiersdorf: TLS Veterans. So, you can talk more about that transition, that change. But before I kick things off with Laura, I just want to take a few minutes to talk about Road Home Program and what we do here. So, again, just so you know, if you’re just joining us for this first, for one of these podcasts, we at Road Home Program care for veterans, and current, serving and drilling active duty service members and their families who may be battling the invisible wounds of war and life, those being PTSD, which is post traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma, we’ll refer to it as MST, traumatic brain injury, TBI and other challenges that service members or veterans may be facing. The Road Home has been caring for veterans in the military, military families and these communities for over eight years. And I believe to date, we’ve helped over 3,000 veterans and their family members. Road Home has not just outpatient services, but we also have what’s called the IOP, Intensive Outpatient Program. And if you want to learn more about that you can go to Again, it’s one word, or you can call us at 312-942-8387 or 312 942 VETS. So let’s talk to you, Laura. Let’s get caught up here. Again, I appreciate you taking time with us. But could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at Veterans Path To Hope?

Laura Franz: Right, absolutely. So I have been the Executive Director of Veterans Path to Hope for six years now. Hard to believe it’s been that long, or that short, depending on how you look at it. I joined the agency, which hit its 25th year, last month. And our agency was started by a Vietnam veteran named Alan Belcher. And he built you know, scratch by scratch piece by piece, the agency over about 18 years, and then passed the reins to someone that was there temporarily. And then I came along to kind of pick up the baton and run. And he’s still involved with the organization, which is absolutely wonderful. So basically, what we do, you know, we started with a transitional living shelter or transitional living program that’s located in Hebron, Illinois. And that’s a program for 20 veterans that are homeless. And we can have male, female and transgender veterans there, which is really nice because they’re living in efficiency apartments and we help them get back on their feet again and then transition into the community. And then we’ve added seven additional programs since that one was started, that are really intended to remove barriers for veterans. Whether it’s food insecurity, whether it’s a need for connecting with other veterans, we have peer support and an outdoors program, employment for homeless veterans, various housing programs. We have a very small office in Rockford now, so we’ve expanded our reach beyond, you know, McHenry County. So, we’re in Rockford. We provide many services in Lake County, by parking at the VA, as well as Chicago, Heinz, you know, so we’re kind of like all across northern Illinois, with various programs. And really, always having an eye towards what is, is there a barrier that one of our programs can help remove? And if we can’t, we have partners like Rush, you know, the VACs, you know, etc, etc, other programs that we can say, “We don’t do this, but they do.” And let’s do a soft handoff to make sure that you get what you need.

Will Beiersdorf: Yeah. And I like what you just said, “What do you need?” Right? “How can we help?” Right? And that’s what you kind of listen for. And we ask the same question here at the Road Home Program, and we’ve been great partners of yours, you know, over the years, so we’re grateful for that. You know, um, I was just going to ask real quickly, so, where are you located? I forgot I was going to actually ask you to say, to share that. Because I know you’ve moved and changed and also changed your name, because you were formerly known as TLS Veterans. But can you talk a little bit about that, just so folks, because there might be some folks say, “Wait a minute.” What’s, you know, and might not know, but if you could just share a little bit of that transformation, which I think is very positive,

Laura Franz: Right, right. Well, you know, it’s funny because people said, Wait, you changed your branding and you moved during the pandemic?” I’m like, “Well, it all started well, well before the pandemic.” You know, o we had identified for a while that our site and McHenry was not meeting our needs. And so we had been looking for another site, and we moved to Crystal Lake in January of this year. And simultaneously, we had been looking at rebranding. Our legal name still remains Transitional Living Services. That’s what TLS Veterans, you know, was connected with. But as we were expanding our program offerings, we realized that even though, yes, you know, dealing with veteran transitions, whether it’s right when they’re coming out of the military, or when they’re retiring, and everything hits them at that point in their life, you know, no matter where the transition is, yes, we’re doing that. But that doesn’t really mean anything to people. And so we put together a group of our staff and, and most of our staff for veterans or one offs. So there’s a real passion, a real commitment, a dedication to helping this population. And we said, when you really boil down, you know, what it is that you do, you know, boots on the ground, day by day, across all eight programs, people said, it’s that moment, when the light goes back on in a veteran or family members eyes. Like, they’ve gone from being frustrated, hopeless, you know, unused to having a barrier that they can’t themselves overcome, or get around in some way. When you’re helping them figure out how to do that, and the light and the hope returns, that’s what we do. And so we said, basically, what we do is we offer a path to hope. You know, we put our heads together, you know, with the veteran or a family member, and we figure it out together.

Will Beiersdorf: No, that’s, I love it. And you know, that kind of goes back to how we came up with the name here at Rush. You know, the Road Home Program. Because, again, we want folks to feel like they’re on the path moving forward, getting back home, you know, into a place of comfort, place of safety. And in, you know, we’ve done a great job on our part. But you’ve also been a great advocate helping us, too, and we work really closely together over the years. So, you know, I’m grateful for everything that you’ve done in the community here in Illinois, and again, you know, I love it. You know, Veterans Path To Hope, I think really resonates and I think people will definitely get it. But I wanted to ask another question, too. So, if people, just real, if someone’s just joining us right now, I just want to pause for a second. This is the Road Home Program, we call the podcast and I’m with Laura Franz, who is the Executive Director of the Veterans Path To Hope in Crystal Lake, right? Crystal Lake, Illinois? And Laura, I just want to add just real quickly, if you could kind of share again, as we’re talking, again, if people want to contact you, you know, here in Illinois, I think you also serve folks that, don’t folks come across the border, too, from Wisconsin?

Laura Franz: Yeah.

Will Beiersdorf: Can you talk about that?

Laura Franz: Yeah, we’re up in Kenosha with our housing program. And then our legacy core program dips into neighboring states as well. And we do get calls from other states and we try to connect people with the services. Like, some of our grants are nationwide. Not that we serve nationwide, but there’s other providers nationwide, so we really try to connect people to services in their community as much as we can.

Will Beiersdorf: Great. Great. And again, I just want to take a pause here. So if you’re just joining us, you know, again, we’re with Laura Franz, you know, Executive Director of the Veterans Path To Hope. This is the Road Home Program, the podcast, you know, I just wanted to just ask you, you know, so you know, we’ve heard this saying, Laura, so, you know, it takes a village, right? It’s a team, right? We got to work together. Talk about your team, talk about the folks that makes your organization, Veterans Path To Hope, successful and again, why people would want to, you know, look, look for you and check you guys out.

Laura Franz: Yeah. So, we tell people that we’re, we are accessible in multiple ways. Our, our Drop-In Resource Center in Crystal Lake is really that. Like, we have a full food pantry here, hygiene supplies, furniture, you know, household items. And so veterans and family members are welcome to stop in anytime, you know, during business hours, 8:30 to 5, although we’re often here later or earlier. But and then people can also email us at And that gets routed to me or to the appropriate staff person. Our website is T, TLS Veterans, listen to me! That’s our website and that’s probably the best place you know, to learn more about the programs and the organization. That’s a good place to go. And then we’re very active on Facebook. I’m very interactive on Facebook and Instagram. So, a lot of different ways to get at us when, you know, whether you yourself need assistance or you know someone. We get a lot of that. Like, referrals from neighbors of people that are struggling, family members of people that are struggling and we’re just, we’re blessed with a really talented staff group because they will reach out by whatever means necessary. You know, the peer support specialist, they’ll text, you know, they’ll call, they’ll visit. You know, whatever they need to do. You know, Uber somebody in, we’ve done that a couple of times. Whatever it takes to make that first connection and try to establish whether, you know, we can build a partnership with that person to move forward and removing barriers.

Will Beiersdorf: Great. Now, you said it very well. We work very closely together, too. I mean, there’s so many different things that we do. And you know, again, you also have on your staff, you know, Kevin Russell, who is, what’s Kevin, so just so folks know, as you’re listening, you know, Kevin used to work here at the Road Home Program. He actually worked with you all, I think at TLS before he came to the Road Home Program. And now he’s back at, now, Veterans Path To Hope. But again, I mean, he’s just one example of the great folks that you have there that are just so committed to the mission and to what you all do. And so, you know, we’re grateful that Kevin was with us, but I’m even more grateful that Kevin is back with you, you know, and, and actually, you know, still in the community and still working, because he’s so passionate. And that’s the one thing I wanted to, if people are listening, I mean, your organization, I mean, is very passionate, and very committed. I mean, you were just saying, you know, it’s like, you know, I don’t think you guys have regular hours, per se. I don’t think any of organizations have regular hours.

Laura Franz: Not really.

Will Beiersdorf: That’s yeah, it’s, it’s, and it’s really nice, because when we come across the situation, as we worked on things in the past, you and your team have always been so good with working with us, you know, on a case by case basis. And, and we’re grateful for that. But I just want to ask again, like, again, any, is there any other anyone else on your team and stuff that you want to highlight or talk about? Because I think if people are listening, you know, they, you know, this might be the first time they’ve heard of Veterans Path To Hope. But can you talk a little more about your team, you know, and about the resources you have in this team? And with Kevin and others?

Laura Franz: Right, right. And it’s, it’s nearly impossible for me. I would need to have a two-hour podcast in all seriousness, because

Will Beiersdorf: I’m sure.

Laura Franz: We have collected an amazing group of people and many of the veterans that we have on staff are pulling triple duty. They’re post commanders of local VFWs, our American Legions, in addition to what they do here. One of our American Legion Post commanders who works in our housing program, also runs our outdoors program, you know, so just one example. People, it’s just a, an amazing group of people. Part of our interview process for both our board and our staff is, what is your veteran connection. And people demonstrate, you know, that interest and that passion for whatever reason. Family members that have served, you know, people, they served, they’re connected to someone who’s still serving, even interns that we get into the program, that that interest and that passion and that real commitment to wanting to make a difference, or to give back. All the veterans that come to us want to give back. And they do. You know, there, we find a way for them to give back. One of my favorite programs, though, I’ll focus on a program as opposed to a person. We have a we home grew this program that’s called the Veterans Community Action Team. And it’s, uh, what we do is we hire veterans that require, or work best, in a supportive, flexible work environment. And what they do is they deliver a house full of furniture, two weeks worth of food, pots, pans, plates, you know, towels, like all of that household stuff, to veteran households that have been placed back into housing, either through us or through the VA. So we average about 35 families per month that this team delivers all over. I mean, they’re all over, you know, Northern Illinois and into, into Kenosha, delivering and it’s an opportunity for these veterans to be able to give back and to offer a hand up and that very person-to-person point of view. So, it’s life changing for both the people that we’re delivering to and as well as the veterans that are doing the delivering.

Will Beiersdorf: Oh, that’s great. I love that. And again, that’s, the new, the name change, and, you know, again, Veterans Path To Hope, again, just resonates with that work. And I know, there’s so many other things. I did want to take a step back, Laura, and just ask you, and again, if you’re just joining us, you know, I’m Will Beiersdorf. I’m the Executive Director here at the Road Home Program at Rush. And we’re on the Road Home Program, the podcast, and I’m with Laura Franz, who is the Executive Director of Veterans Path To Hope. And I just wanted to ask you, Laura, so how did you get involved in this community? And if you could just share with people a little bit more about your background. And again, you shared with us you came to TLS about six years ago, was it?

Laura Franz: Yes.

Will Beiersdorf: But six, six, but can you share with people a little more about your background? And I guess other question is, you know, why, why are you serving? What’s the passion? What’s the drive of being in this veterans community? Because it’s, there’s a lot going on and stuff and just I always wonder, it’s like, so what brought you here, you know, to the community?

Laura Franz: Yeah, there, it’s, it’s interesting, because there’s a lot of things. I had married into a veteran family. I also have cousins and second cousins that have served. And I also have a nephew that is currently serving. So I have had all these kind of little streams of touching the community. But what happened was, my previous career was child welfare. And I had done just about every kind of programming that you can do in child welfare. And when this posting came up for this position, a number of different people, at least five, it was like between five to seven people sent me the posting. And at first, I didn’t take it very seriously. I didn’t take it very seriously, because I, I hadn’t been thinking about working with adults. And but I thought, well, when something comes at you, you know, that many times, you have to pay attention. And I came in, and I met with the search committee for, at the time, TLS Veterans. And they were all vets. And I felt so, just the synergy. Like, you know, the struggles of the agency, I knew what to do. My experience had led me here. I loved the passion, the mission of the board members. And I thought that, that’s who I want to be with. Like, I want to be with people that are not about politics, not about, you know, jockeying for power. No, no, people that are really about the clients that we’re serving. And that’s how it’s been, you know, throughout the course of this six years. It’s been people, you know, really, like I’ve been saying, just so dedicated, so committed, and we make a difference. And so, the other part of it, that I’m a licensed clinical social worker, that’s my background and the veteran community, in terms of being interested and being able to reach the, the veteran community crosses all other, I’m trying to think what to call it. Like, you can work with domestic violence, you can work with victims of child abuse, you can work with homelessness, you can work with nutritional challenges. Like, every segment of the general areas of angst, if you will, in social work, they’re in the veteran community. So, being able to impact all those different areas of practice and areas of need is really, it’s fun, and it’s delightful. And our team is very multidisciplinary, which you know, lends itself to being able to put our heads together and figure it out for people. And with people.

Will Beiersdorf: And you have you have a great team, you know, Laura, and you guys are very fortunate. And again, everyone’s really, really lasered in on the mission. And again, starting with you. And again, it comes from you, really, at the beginning of each day, at the end of each day. It’s like you’re focused on making sure that these veterans and their families are well served, right? And you’re looking out for their best interest because you’re their, you know you’re an advocate, like we are at the Road Home Program.

Laura Franz: Right.

Will Beiersdorf: You know, you know, when you talk about your organization, you know, you know, is there is there one thing, what sets, you know, Veterans Path To Hope out from the others? Because I know, there’s other folks that do similar things, you know, but what sets you apart? You know, what is it? What’s that, is there, probably not just one thing, it’s probably multiple things, but what is it?

Laura Franz: What I would I would say about what sets us apart, we’ve heard from numerous people, number one is our compassion in dealing with veterans. You know, we get people that are, are, you know, they’re, they’ve hit a point of despair, desperation. When you’ve become homeless, and you never expected in a million years to become homeless, and you’ve lost everything, sometimes your family, certainly all of your belongings, you know, you’re not always a happy or pleasant person to deal with. Our staff are very compassionate. They try to look beyond, you know, what, whatever difficulties and communication may be happening, and really stay focused on the mission, which is to help this veteran figure out how to get to the next step on their path, you know, how to move past it. So that’s number one. We hear that a lot. Number two, is that we’re not, we, we move fast. You know, like we’ve had other people from other systems come to us and say, “We want you to help us because we know that if we ask, it’ll probably be done today.” There’s no bureaucracy of weeks of waiting for something to get done. We’re able to mobilize really quickly. And then thirdly, I would say we really have a whatever it takes kind of approach. If we have someone come to us who is not able to be served by any one of our eight programs, because of whatever reason, they don’t meet the requirements for the program or geographically whatever it might be – we’re still going to try to help that person and figure out, again, if it if it’s not us with our resources and, you know, the different partnerships we have, we’ll refer them to someone that can help them. So, I think those are the, that’s the feedback we get about what makes us different.

Will Beiersdorf: Yeah, I like that philosophy. We have that here at the Road Home Program, and, and also at other, you know, again, other organizations that I’ve worked at and stuff again, always asking that question, “What do you need?” You know, and listening, right? And assessing. And you guys, you do a great job of that. And you’ve got a great team, and you’ve done great work. And, again, grateful for the relationship we have and trying to work on different projects, different initiatives. And again, just grateful for everything you’ve done, you know, kind of leading TLS into now Veterans Path To Hope. So, as we wrap up, so I just want to thank you again, for your time. I know you’re busy and there’s a lot going on. But is there anything else you want to share with folks and about the work you’re doing, you know, at Veterans Path To Hope? And again, just if you can share with the folks, how can they get a hold of you? And again, you know, email, you know, website, whatever it is, how they can learn more about your organization.

Laura Franz: Right, right. You know, the, the veterans here always asked me to remind our constituents that services are free. There’s, you know, people that live in the transitional living program do pay a small amount to live there, it’s part of the program. But our counseling services, our peer support services, the caregiver, like all of that is free. You know, so someone in need just has to come ask. They don’t have to worry about the, you know, the burden of not being able to afford something. And then secondly, I want to circle back to you to say with all sincerity, it is wonderful to be, to know your program and to be able to refer, like, when people come to us that are really struggling, really suffering and we can say to them with wholehearted, you know, like faith, there is this program, it’s a little far, but it’s worth it, you know, that you will feel better. You will feel relief. You’ll be started on a path. That is, I’m so grateful that we have that with the Road Home Program, that we can refer to you, as well. And then be on the back end as needed when people come out and they’re ready to continue their work through the intensive outpatient.

Will Beiersdorf: Yeah, well, again, I’m grateful, I’m thankful for that. And again, it’s a team effort, right? And I kind of reflect back and I kind of think back to when we were first building out the Road Home Program, me and I came here over eight years ago, to start this and create the team. And again, the big thing was, again, I always thought about, so, it’s in this great academic medical center, we’re at Rush University Medical Center, we’re very fortunate. And so as we’re building team out, it’s just like, I want to make sure that people have a real, you know, passion and compassion for serving veterans, but then also, you know, again, going and taking time to listen to what the vets needed, right? And not just giving them what we wanted to give them but what they needed. And that’s our philosophy here as I always like to say, “What do you need?” Right? It’s something that I picked up from, from an old friend of mine many years ago, who helped me and my wife, Mary Beth, you know, when we started Salute Inc, you know, in those early days. And now, I was invited to come and start to build out the Road Home Program, which again, was just an idea, but, but again, the strength of the Road Home Program here at Rush lies with our partnerships and our friendships with, with you, you know? With Veterans Path To Hope and so many other organizations that again, you are, you are a proven advocate because, you know, it’s funny how you were talking earlier, it’s like when you have a case or situation, you, you really cut through the BS and just kind of get at it. The same thing I learned early on is Mary Beth and I worked developing Salute Inc, you know, and then also, I brought that same philosophy here to Rush and as we were developing, eventually created what’s called the Road Home Program, but, but it’s just kind of cutting through because that’s what veterans and family members are looking for. They’re just, when they come to you, unfortunately, they’re probably in some difficult times, right? And they need, you know, sometimes assistance, support or care, like right now, right? And so, you know, and you can’t control that, right? As much as you try to be proactive and try to educate people, I mean, it just doesn’t work that way in this community or any other communities, you know, where people are struggling. So, so hey, so again, Laura, I just want to thank you again for your time today. And again, now if you want to learn more about your program, the Veterans Path To Hope or tell people how they can contact you and your website, any other information. You know, one last time, please?

Laura Franz: Okay, That’s our website. is our email. You’re welcome to call. 815-321-4673 is our phone number. And you can reach us on Facebook. It’s Veterans Path To Hope and you can reach us through messaging or posting on the page.

Will Beiersdorf: Great. And again, I’m Will Beiersdorf. I’m the Executive Director of the Road Home Program here at Rush University Medical Center. We’re talking with Laura Franz, who is the Executive Director at Veterans Path To Hope. If you want to learn more about again, Laura just gave you the information, but if you want learn more about the Road Home Program, you can go to Road Home Program, all one word dot org. Or you can call us at 312-942-8387. That’s 312 942.VETS so again, I’m Will Beiersdorf, Executive Director here at the Road Home Program. And again, you’ve been listening to the Road Home Program, the podcast, I hope you have a great day and thank you for listening. And Laura, thank you for, you know, serving this community. I’m really grateful and I know others are, too. And I think folks listening to this will learn more and hopefully, you know, if they need services come to you or more importantly, if they want to support you, they can also donate and support you because you are definitely worthy cause. So.

Laura Franz: Thank you so much.


About Road Home Program: The Podcast

Veterans have served our country, now it’s our turn to serve them. Road Home’s Will Beiersdorf talks with veterans and their families about their journeys transitioning to civilian life. During every episode you’ll hear from subject matter experts, like Rush clinicians, staff and community partners, discussing resources and services available to veterans to help them heal from the invisible wounds of war. Subscribe, download, or listen to other Road Home Program podcast episodes.

The Road Home Program provides mental health care and wellness to veterans of all eras, service members, and their families at no cost and regardless of discharge status. If you or a loved one needs help, call us at (312) 942-8387 (VETS) or fill out the Get Care form.