Story by Margaret Richards, Red Cross volunteer

Through the Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program, the Red Cross is constantly looking for new opportunities to give back to those who have served our country. One of the many ways we get involved is by participating in the annual Albany County Stand-Down, an event aimed at providing services to homeless and in-need veterans in our community. At the most recent Stand-Down, Red Cross volunteers saw a need to continue supporting veterans beyond the one-day event.

Under the leadership of SAF program director Dianna Rios, the Red Cross organized a special Veterans Day Lunch-and-Learn. Veterans from the Stand-Down program were invited with their families to enjoy a warm meal and participate in a Reconnection Workshop session at the Northeastern New York Chapter of the Red Cross. Workshop discussions were geared toward improving communication skills outside of military service.

Many generous donations helped make this Veterans Day program possible. The Desmond Hotel provided lunch and the Girl Scouts of NENY donated cookies along with knitted hats, scarves, and blankets to kick off the annual Red Cross Winter Warmth Project.

During the event, two discussion groups were formed, one for men and one for women. Each group was given a safe environment to converse with one another about experiences unique to them.

“Everyone was empowered to share their true feelings,” Dianna Rios said. “It was a safe space where they were able to open up.”

Ellen Hillander, an SAF volunteer who attended the event, helped facilitate the discussion for women. “A lot of emotion comes out, especially with the women,” she said. “We start the conversation and let them go wherever they need to go with it.”

The Veterans Day Lunch-and-Learn program is just one of the many ways we reach out to our local veterans. To join the effort and help people in your own community, visit your local chapter or go to