By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Andre Mears has seen the horrors of war.
“A lot of it, now that I look back, was very traumatic,” he says.
Mears was drafted into the US Army in 1966. He spent a year in the infantry in Germany, but never made it to Vietnam.
Discharged because of illness, he came home in 1967 with what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“It was not like it is now,” he says. “When we got home, no one welcomed us. People spit on us. It’s so different now.”
But the trauma he experienced and the pain of returning home to North Philadelphia did not stop Mears. He looked around his neighborhood, which at the time had been infiltrated by gangs. Mears wanted to stop the violence, so he decided to work to keep the young men in his neighborhood out of trouble.
“I started tutoring many of the children in the neighborhood, from pre-school to high school,” he says. “I would take many of them on field trips to center city, I would take them to the park because many of the kids had never left the block.”
“Many of our veterans had to overcome alcohol and drugs,” he says, “and the hardest thing to overcome is homelessness.”
Mears has helped scores of veterans battle homelessness by finding them, first, transitional and then permanent housing. He also helps our former servicemen get health care, employment, and other benefits.
“Veterans today should know what’s out there for them,” he says.
Mears is a busy man. He volunteers for Pennsylvania state senator Shirley Kitchen. He attends various veterans’ functions, helps raise money for scholarships, and helps kids living in foster homes. But he doesn’t get paid money to do any of it. Instead, the benefit he gets is being called friend and “father” by those to whom he has lent a hand.
“I will always cherish the letters and calls I get saying how I inspired someone,” he says, “but I don’t really think about that. It just feels good to help.”
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