PHOENIX – For some veterans, searching for help can prove difficult and unsuccessful. But the nonprofit Operation Restoring Veteran Hope is reaching veterans on a number of levels, from healing retreats to services outreach to helping them bond over motorcycles.
The operation was started by Ray Perez and Sandra Topete, who saw the need for a support system for veterans like themselves. Perez experienced incarceration, homelessness and drug addiction, and he wanted to help fellow veterans experiencing similar issues in their lives.
“It’s to help inspire our brothers and sisters that are struggling with addiction, homelessness, incarceration. … I myself have been through the struggle. After getting out of the military, I struggled with all of the above,” said Perez, who is president of the organization.
The organization is all about hope: the hope that recovery is possible and veterans can once again be themselves.
Services are free for veterans and funded mostly through partnerships and donations.
“We help out veterans that are struggling with addiction; suicidal ideations; those coming out of prison, out of jail, out of rehabilitation programs,” Perez said.
The organization provides annual healing retreats, community and family activities and workshops, and access to mental health care and treatments for addiction. The retreats are held near Mormon Lake south of Flagstaff. Donation drives and other events take place at operation headquarters, known as the Bunker. It also serves as a place for veterans to come together, share life experiences and heal together.
“You’ve gone through some of the same stuff,” said veteran William Turner, who’s part of Operation Restoring Veteran Hope, which he calls “a brotherhood that helps out.”
“Trenches II Wrenches,” a workshop held at the Bunker, is a way for veterans to bond and grow through the building, repairing and restoring of motorcycles. Perez said veterans can bond and heal by “bending wrenches and building brotherhood,” although vets of all genders are welcome.
On one Tuesday in October, veteran Joe Lucero was working on a Harley-Davidson engine. Lucero started going to Trenches II Wrenches and the Mormon Lake retreats around the time the nonprofit was established in 2018. He volunteers at the Bunker and Trenches II Wrenches a few times per week.
“I’m in, I want to learn this, and it gives me a reason to get up in the morning and come do something productive – something I enjoy – and it keeps me enthused about doing things,” Lucero said.
Veteran Todd Rhodes, who is experiencing homelessness and has been using the operation’s resources since mid-August, said he appreciates the opportunity and support Operation Restoring Veteran Hope has brought him.
It “helps bring your self-esteem,” he said, adding that Perez has “been able to help us, get us clothes. If you need food or something, he opens up his doors for you.”
Perez can get emotional about his work: “Being able to help the veteran community in the capacity that we do is unexplainable in my eyes, in my heart, It’s priceless.”
Veterans who need help can reach the organization through its website, orvh.net.