Putting Their Hands Where Their Hearts Are
There are no big “W’s” on their shirtfronts, and they don’t stand around with arms akimbo and legs firmly planted. It’s their quiet actions that make these three the “Wonder Women” of the Veterans Helping Hand in York.
Collette Walker, Dorothy Miller, and Sandie Walker form the team that makes the world spin for veterans in need.
Sandy Walker’s boots were large ones to fill, and it took a lot of feet to fill them to accomplish his dream of creating resources for any veteran in need, most specifically for those who found themselves homeless in York.
Sandy, who was Sandie’s dad and Collette’s husband, was a Vietnam veteran who faced the same abhorrent treatment when he returned as did the majority of others returning from the little country in Southeast Asia.
Many were treated as convicts or criminals just for doing the job they were required to do. The result was a second round of wounding for these heroes as they tried to fit back into a country that wanted to pelt them with ridicule and criticism for something that no one seemed to understand.
Many of those vets came back home to York, often like pieces of a puzzle searching for the elusive puzzle from which they originated.
Many found jobs almost as soon as they got home, but due to what would later be termed PTSD, a percentage of the veterans found they couldn’t cope with segueing back into the “normal” life they had left. Many became homeless and broke.
“Mr. Sandy” had the ability to understand the drive and vision to actually do something about helping them. He went to where the displaced veterans had settled, whether it was under bridges, in local wooded areas—anywhere they could disappear from the animosity leveled toward them.
Distrust shadowed him at first, until he established that he was only there to help in whatever way he could.
Sometimes that meant taking water to them in summer heatwaves or blankets and warm clothing in frigid temperatures. Maybe more than anything, however, he took a message that someone cared, really cared.
After a time, “Miss Dorothy” often trekked right along with Mr. Sandy as someone who could also be trusted. Most days, she didn’t even know where they’d be going, just that they would be going, and she would learn that boots, raingear, or warm clothing might be on the menu depending on the day.
Dorothy could more than “hack” it. As a daughter of actual slaves in Mississippi, she had resilience and the mettle to do just about anything.
At the age of 12, she, along with help from a local pastor, went down to Mississippi and, by dark of night, liberated her family from the masters that had them picking cotton in slavery. She calmly mentions that if they had been caught, they would have been killed.
“Miss Dorothy” prays about everything in her life, and God is her life’s tour guide. She eventually ended up working in the shelter every weekday as an independent contractor.
With the hours and the “pay,” it basically comes down to being a volunteer, Sandie said. It’s OK with Dorothy, who doesn’t like to be recognized as being anybody special.
She and Mr. Sandy didn’t get along at all when they first met. He was “outspoken,” spurring Dorothy’s pointblank declaration to him. She said, “I don’t really care for you, but I am in it for the mission.”
That made him kind of stop, and then start laughing.
“From then on, we got along.” He was honest and truthful, so to her, that was the tradeoff for his blunt ways.
Collette Walker was a team player with her husband, Mr. Sandy, and she beams when she explains how he was a champion to so many people.
However, the undertaking took a great deal of effort and time as well as money. Sacrifice was a constant companion, and it couldn’t help but affect the family, which comprised three blood-related children and several children who just kind of morphed into the family.
Their mission together was to help people, a pure and simple concept that transported Collette from not only wife and mother, but also to someone who shared the vision.
It was by no means an easy life, and certainly not for the feeble. Collette may be one of the few women who could pick up that quest and partner with her husband to make it work. Like the other two Wonder Women, she prefers to be a background gear to keep the machine running.
When Sandy and Collette’s daughter Sandie was born, how could anyone know that she would one day fill the boots of her dad? When Mr. Sandy passed away just a few months before the veterans shelter was to open, Sandie stepped in and up to coordinate everything that needed to be done.
Not that anyone would know that if they weren’t involved in the gutting, renovation, and reconstruction of the building on West King Street. The spotlight never shines on her, by her choice.
Though Sandie holds a double degree from University of Richmond, serves on York City council, and chairs the York Police and Fire Committee through council, you won’t find that out from her.
The 6-foot, 1-inch beauty not only was a star basketball player for York High and her college, but she also went on to coach the girls’ basketball team at her York High alma mater.
As founder and co-director or Y.O.R.K., or Youth Obtaining Respect and Knowledge, a summer travel and community-service program for teens, her heart and soul paves the way for youth as well as the veterans.
Sandie could very easily sail into wealth and recognition and power. Instead, she is another third of the trio that makes up the Wonder Women of Veterans Helping Hand.
Dorothy, Collette, Sandie—serving York County’s finest, our veterans. BW
For more information, visit Veterans Helping Hand on Facebook or call 717.900.4742.