Julie Moralez called Kelly Moore Paint to see if the company would donate cans of paint for a much-needed refreshing of the Yale Apartment building that houses Dignity’s Alcove.
The worst that could happen was she’d be told no.
Instead, the paint was supplied and about 40 members of the Stockton National Guard unit spent a day covering the mustard, yellow and teal walls of the lounge, dining room and classroom with bone white paint.
It was a good day for the 11-year-old residential rehabilitation facility for veterans.
“We’re trying to draw attention to what we do,” said executive director Julie Moralez. “A lot of people don’t know what we do.”
Most funding comes from the U.S. Veterans Administration, but Moralez laughs that so few in Stockton are aware of Dignity’s Alcove and said the most reliable support comes from a little lady this tall, holding her hand about 4½ feet in the air, and bikers.
Specifically, she means Roberta Taylor, who lost her son, Mark Taylor, in Iraq in 2004 and her husband a year later.
Introduced to Dignity’s Alcove by the Native Daughters of the Golden West, Taylor began helping about four years ago, when founders Harold and Mary Butts were still operating it. Both have since died of cancer, Mary within that past few weeks.
“I just like the people,” Taylor said. “I’ve gotten to know some of the men, and they know me when I drive up and open my trunk.”
On Thursday, Taylor had a trunk full of neck ties and clothes to deliver. Other times it’s toiletries or treats.
She and the Native Daughters deliver bags of treats on Memorial Day, Valentine’s Day and Christmas. Taylor also sponsors a Christmas party.
Moralez’s bikers are the Combat Veteran Motorcycle Association, which arranged for painting by the National Guard.
Moralez spotted them providing security at the Asparagus Festival and cornered them, a tactic she said she uses if she sees people who might be able to help her nonprofit agency.
The motorcycle group has since held a fundraiser, and locates homeless veterans on the street and steers them to Dignity’s Alcove. One of the member’s wives teaches special needs adults and brings her students once a month to lead bingo.
The game has prizes and is a diversion from the real work going on in the facility.
Anger management, money management, life skills and addiction recovery classes are coupled with one-on-one counseling for formerly homeless veterans from the Vietnam era and more recent conflicts.
No matter when they served, their issues are the same.
“From my own experience, military men and women are very stubborn and they don’t want to ask for the help. Instead of asking for help, they self medicate,” Moralez said. “Sometimes their family, they don’t understand and they get kicked out of where they’re living. They don’t know where to turn. When they do finally talk to somebody, it’s the VA, and they know of us. We can get someone in within 10 minutes. We’re not going to let them be on the street.”
Dignity’s Alcove is one of the few residential-rehab facilities for veterans in Northern California and the only one in San Joaquin County. It can house up to 42 men at a time, men who need the kind of help Moralez’s husband, Angel, needed after he served in Iraq in 2003-04 and 2007-08.
“Every little noise catapulted him out of bed,” Moralez said. “Driving, even to this day I hate driving with him because he’s constantly looking around, because of convoy security. He’s always looking for something.”
He also started drinking and that put him in the hospital for five days. Moralez told him: Choose alcohol or your family, including their three children. He went through counseling and rehabilitation.
Augustine “Augie” Espino started drinking while in the Marine Corps, which he joined in 1977 after graduating from Franklin High School.
After being discharged in 1983, he became a heroin addict. Her served time in prison and was sent to several rehab facilities.
When he decided to turn himself around, he went to New Directions. There, he met a fellow veteran, who suggested Dignity’s Alcove when Espino was ready to work.
Espino had volunteered a few months before Harold Butts invited him to move to Dignity’s Alcove for treatment. He’s been there ever since, although he no longer lives there.
Espino enrolled at San Joaquin Delta College hoping to take culinary classes. They were full, and Butts suggested he take psychology. Espino ultimately completed Delta’s substance abuse counseling program, as did Moralez.
They lead classes and counsel one-on-one at Dignity’s Alcove.
Espino has the advantage of being a veteran.
“They’re feeling unsure if they want this, if this is the right move,” Espino said. “I’m an example. I know. I’ve been there.”
Moralez’s expertise comes from being married to a veteran. And respecting them.
“I listen,” Moralez said. “They’re not asking for anything more than that.”
What Moralez is asking for is more community support. The current building is old and a new one is needed. Beds wear out and there’s always a need for bedding (twin size) food, some of which it gets from the Food Bank, toiletries and money to pay for water and power.
Moralez, who arrived at at Dignity’s Alcove in 2014 as an intern and became executive director last year, is determined to keep Harold and Mary Butts’ dream alive.
“I liked what they were doing for veterans and how they treated veterans,” she said. “Once my husband got sober, I felt the need to be a support system for other veterans that didn’t have that. There’s a lot of gentlemen here that have burned so many bridges they don’t have that family support system or someone to fight for them like my husband had. I take it upon myself. You wouldn’t think you’d have to fight so hard for veterans, but you do. It’s what I’m going to continue to do.”
One phone call or one introduction to a community member at a time.
Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lorigrecord.