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Jacob Puff: one veteran giving back to many others


There was a time when Jacob Puff, a U.S. Marine veteran who served in Afghanistan, needed help. Thanks to the GI bill, he was studying sociology at Erie Community College in Buffalo, NY, but he only could afford housing by rooming at his uncle’s house. When it went up for sale, he scrambled for an alternative.
Jacob Puff (right) and one of "his vets"
Jacob Puff (right) and one of "his vets"
“When I was looking to see how my VA benefits could help, I was bounced all over,” recalls Puff, who also was volunteering at the time for the Veterans Administration’s Psychosocial Rehabilitation Center. “I kept hearing about all these programs available but couldn’t seem to find them. It was a mystery to me until I heard about the Veterans One-Stop Center (VOC) of Western New York. Finding one place where you could get or be referred to all the available services was such a relief.”

Fortunately, a relative stepped forward to help Puff and he no longer needed help. But in the VOC, he had found the internship opportunity he had been seeking – and a career. NeighborWorks member PathStone Corp. is a community partner of VOC, and the two organizations share space. One opportunity led to another, and today, Puff is a rural-outreach field worker for PathStone’s SSVF (supportive services for veteran families) program.

Puff spends his days visiting soup kitchens and food cupboards, looking for the places where the rural, often long-term homeless “hide” – usually tents in out-of-the-way places. Most, he says, are older vets from Vietnam or Desert Storm, when there weren’t as many early-intervention services available.

“It’s often difficult to persuade vets who have been living outside for so long to trust again,” explains Puff. “Plus, they’ve been taught in the military to be strong, so they don’t want to ask for help. You have to build a relationship gradually, drawing out their story over an apple or a cup of coffee.” 

Usually, however, he eventually breaks through. Puff recalls one man who he “cultivated” for three weeks until Puff was able to place him in a substance-abuse treatment program with supportive housing. When the man “graduated,” he transitioned to a halfway house, and today he lives in his own apartment.

“That’s the kind of success that keeps me going,” he says.

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