Jefferson Awards: “Bridging the Gap” for Homeless Veterans

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EAST MOLINE - Mike Malmstrom always finds a way to stand up for our veterans.

"It’s important to be involved, because if you want to be part of a community you have to stand up and help the community," he said.

A veteran himself - serving in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve for 8 years - Mike found a platform for his passion by working with another Marine: U.S. Congressman Lane Evans.

"6-1/2 years on the road with Lane as a Congressional Staffer... If you didn't learn about veterans and veterans service, there was something wrong with you," explained Mike. "Lane dedicated his life to working class men and women and veterans across this country. It just kind of rubbed off... one Marine to another."

That relationship has had a lasting impact on what Mike has been doing for nearly two decades now. In 2000, he started "Bridging the Gap" - a non-profit organization that creates a modern-day "Stand Down" in the Quad Cities.

"A 'Stand Down' was a rare area that the troops could go to and not have to look over their shoulder and could write home, see a doctor, see a preacher, just kick back for two or three days and not have to worry about whether you could sleep that night and not be ambushed," he described.

Here, it's an event that connects homeless veterans with local resources and services. It was something Congressman Evans supported as well, before he passed away in 2014.

"It was one of his passions, because one of the bills he pushed was the funding for homeless veterans while he was in Congress and to see that put together in his area and district, he was very proud of that and very active in any way he could and helpful in any way he could," said Mike.

"Bridging the Gap" keeps going and growing. There are now two "Stand Downs" a year - run 100% by volunteers, like Gloria Menzer, with 100% of the proceeds going to veterans.

"I saw an article in the paper - 'Volunteers Needed' - and I volunteered and 17 years later... I'm still doing it," laughed Gloria.

"Anything that can be positive for a veteran's life, Mike brings it," she added. "He makes it happen. You ask, he'll do. He's there."

It's that kind of public service that makes Mike a Nominee for the Jefferson Awards.

"I don't do it for that," he said. "I do it, because I feel it needs to be done."

"Just since I've started, I have seen the gap bridged and yet there's still so much out there to do," said Gloria. "I hope he never quits trying."

"It's important, because a lot of people don't think about that individual that might be out on the street," explained Mike. "People need to wake up and look outside their window, because there's more issues than what's inside the house and unless we all wake up and work together to try to resolve them it's going to continue on."

Mike is doing his part. As Commander of AMVETS Post 145 in East Moline, Illinois, he's bringing all veterans together - no matter their affiliation, age, or address.

"When it comes to veterans, there are no borders."

Through the "Stand Down," Mike stands up for our veterans - every single of one them.

"If we can help one veteran, than we've completed our job," he said.

"Bridging the Gap" is hosting its one-day Stand Down on Thursday, February 16th, 2017 at American Legion Post 26, 702 West 35th Street, Davenport. For more details, click here.

The organization's biggest fundraiser of the year - a taco dinner - is also coming up on March 30th, 2017 at the Moline Viking Club, 1450 41st Street, Moline. For more details, click here.

The three-day Stand Down is scheduled for September 14-16, 2017 at the QCCA Expo Center, 2621 4th Avenue, Rock Island.

The Jefferson Awards

It's all about the people who are changing our community. For the third season, WQAD News 8 and Genesis Health System are bringing you eight local nominees of the Jefferson Award. The Jefferson Awards Foundation is a prestigious national recognition system honoring community and public volunteerism in America, or as well call them, "unsung heroes." On the last Tuesday of every month, WQAD News 8 will announce one nominee. Then, in Spring 2017, one of the eight will represent the Quad Cities in Washington, D.C. at the National Jefferson Awards Ceremony.