Army Wife Helps Vets With 'Open Arms'
(December 30, 2010)
|WASHINGTON, Dec. 23, 2010 – Dedie Davis knows what it's like
to be homeless.|
Davis and her two children slept in their car for a short
time in 1998 until family and friends helped them get back
on their feet.
So passing out food and hugs, often venturing
into homeless encampments in the Seattle area,
doesn't faze her.
Davis, founder and president of Operation Open
Arms, a nonprofit organization that provides
food and supplies to homeless veterans and
veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress
disorder, explained her passion for charitable
work is fueled by her personal experiences.
Davis is the wife of Sgt. Byron Davis, a
Marine-turned-Army Reserve soldier with three
overseas tours under his belt.
Davis said she first became interested in
helping soldiers with PTSD after witnessing the
changes her husband experienced after his
deployment to Iraq in 2004. "It was very easy to
tell that he wasn't OK," she said.
In support of her husband's treatment, Davis
attended a Veterans Affairs in-patient program
Dedie Davis, an Army spouse and founder of Operation Open Arms, a nonprofit organization that provides food and supplies to homeless veterans and veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, presents a $3,000 donation to PTSD and homeless veteran programs benefiting Seattle and American Lake Veterans. Photo courtesy of Dedie Davis
him. It was then that Davis learned not all
veterans have a support system, or the means to
receive the proper care needed to make progress.
Now Davis fundraises for both PTSD sufferers and the
homeless, something she said comes naturally to her. "I've
always tried to find someone who is less fortunate than me,
and help them," she said.|
After her experience with homelessness, Davis said she often
took her children to volunteer at soup kitchens and homeless
shelters. She said she raised them with the mindset that no
matter what the circumstances, there is always someone
living in more dire conditions.
"They grew up knowing that that's what we did," Davis said
of volunteering. "I just think it needs to be done. I just
hope that if it was me, someone would help."
It was this outlook on helping others that led Davis to
founding Operation Open Arms.
On her way to work in 2007, Davis repeatedly saw a white,
plastic deck chair propped underneath an overpass. Something
about that chair grabbed her attention, and she knew she
couldn't be content until she discovered who it belonged to.
"As hard as I tried, I could not shake the feeling that I
needed to go there," she said.
After several attempts to convince her husband to accompany
her under the overpass, he conceded and escorted a
four-months-pregnant Davis through ankle-high mud to find
the chair's owner. What they found was three men living
under the bridge. One of them was a Vietnam War veteran.
At first, the men were wary of the Davis' presence and
intentions, but when they learned that Byron was a soldier
and his wife was pregnant, they became more at ease, she
The homeless veteran had a brain injury and a metal plate in
his skull, but thought the only place for him in society was
on the streets, Davis said. She and her husband tried to
help the men, offering them alternatives to being homeless,
but they declined any help aside from donations of food and
supplies, she said.
They continued to visit the men over the next year, yet
"they were almost non-accepting of the things I was giving
them," she said, explaining that even being homeless, the
men retained their pride.
One day, Davis said, they went looking for the men under the
bridge, but they were gone.
So Davis took her help for the homeless to Seattle's
streets, visiting known homeless encampments and "tent
cities," bringing donations of food, cold-weather gear and
any other supplies they ask her for.
Armed with 25 volunteers, Davis runs her organization in her
free time, taking no pay for herself or her volunteers.
Davis' approach to helping others recently caught the
attention of the E! Channel and was featured in a special
news piece on PTSD called "E! Investigates: Military Wives."
During taping for the show, Davis took host Laura Ling on
one of her trips to drop off food for the homeless, and the
reaction among the homeless population was mixed. Some were
grateful for the assistance, others, possibly scared by the
camera crew, refused Davis' care bags.
"It's upsetting," Davis said of those who refuse her
assistance. "You want to help out as many people as
One encounter during filming turned hostile, she said, when
a Vietnam veteran began shouting at her. "This man got in my
face, and was yelling about the bad treatment he received
when [U.S. troops] returned from Vietnam," she said. "'Where
were you 35 years ago?'" she said he asked her.
Unfazed, Davis answered that she was still in diapers 35
years ago, which made the man laugh and quelled his anger.
Davis said she enjoys helping veterans, but is saddened to
see any of America's former servicemembers on the streets.
"It's an honor for me to be able to go and tell them that I
appreciate their service," she said.
Davis explained that on recent trips into homeless
encampments, she's noticed more young veterans than in the
past. "To me, that's even more confusing," she said.
After the E! Channel's airing, Davis said she received many
messages from people who were interested in starting
Operation Open Arms chapters in their own cities, and Davis
"Maybe I'll rub off on some people," she said. "I feel like
I'm supposed to be doing this. I won't stop until I know
I've made a difference."
By Alexandra Hemmerly-Brown|
Army News Service
American Forces Press Service
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