Raji Rykert: Finding Help for Homeless Veterans and Disabled Adults
I am thrilled to share with you a Success Story interview with Raji Rykert. Raji is on a mission to help homeless Veterans and disabled adults.
About Raji Rykert
Raji Rykert is an extraordinary businesswoman with over 40 years of accomplishments that included the following:
One of the first minority female businesswomen who owned and operated an Altadena Drive dairy and drive-thru gas station. In her first year of flipping real estate, she achieved outcomes that only seasoned investors could hope for.
She was mentored by some of corporate America’s finest influencers and thought leaders which resulted in a long and prosperous career innovating and leading in the healthcare industry.
Taking all the lessons she learned and the successes she accomplished over the course of 35 years in business, she has now turned her focus to adding to her legacy for helping others.
Helping Homeless Veterans
How did you get started with Helping America Now?
She is the founder of Helping America Now, a nonprofit designed to help US Veterans and mentally disabled adults find empowerment and independence by providing financial scholarships that can be used for education and general living assistance.
While working with these individuals on a day to day basis, it became evident that “the system” was set up to keep them dependent and Raji wanted to help them become independent. As a result, she immediately set out to identify ways to help her clients find empowerment and achieve their own personal and financial goals.
HAN has a wonderful mission, what inspired you to help homeless veterans?
My father-in-law is a former veteran and I have many friends who are either retired veterans or are married to a current or former veteran. As a citizen of a free country, I realize that our freedom comes with a price and our veterans are people who sacrificed years of their lives to be a part of something that protected our freedoms.
Can you share a little bit about your work and how you are helping veterans?
I work with a couple of housing vendors to provide housing for homeless veterans who are in the “rapid re-housing program”. At these facilities, they are provided with a clean, comfortable, safe place to live.
In the full-service housing program, participants receive healthy, organic meals and assistance with procuring services that will help them in the long term. For mentally disabled adults, it is similar, once they are provided with a safe, comfortable place to live and get consistent follow up medical and psychiatric support services, they start to thrive.
It has been extremely satisfying to watch people transform. When we first started working with veterans, many of them were traumatized by the experience of having been homeless and struggling to survive. Once they were housed, getting excellent quality nutrition and working with positive, uplifting people, the “sparkle” returned to their eyes, they laughed more and started to have hope for the future.
Do you have a triumph you would like to share?
One mentally disabled woman who suffered from debilitating psychiatric conditions including severe depression lost 40 lbs. and got off all diabetic medications. As her health began to improve, she started looking for a job. HAN subsidized a scholarship to help her learn some basic skills to assist her with becoming more marketable in the workforce.
In another example, a homeless veteran was living in a sober living treatment facility owned by the VA. He was two months behind on his storage and car payments and the situation looked bad. After speaking with his case manager and learning that his VA benefits were going to kick in within the next two or three weeks, HAN provided a scholarship to bring his two accounts current and pre-pay both accounts for another month in advance.
This enabled him to land on his feet and position him for a better outcome. His fiancé, who is in nursing school, started crying. They were overwhelmed by the kindness and help they received from people they did not know.
What challenges are you facing in helping veterans and mentally disabled adults?
As with many great causes, sometimes the needs are greater than the finances that are available. Since we are just starting our campaign to let people know about us, much of the funding has come from my own personal resources with the rest coming from private benefactors and government grants.
My goal is to share this message and find more people who like me, are passionate about helping these types of individuals. More funding will mean helping more people. I'm proud to say that 100% of our donations go directly to the scholarships.
Is there something you learned from running a non-profit that you found surprising?
I was surprised to see how high the “administrative costs” can be for some non-profit organizations (varies from 10% to 35%). 100% of HAN’s proceeds goes to the recipients.
What does a typical day look like?
- Researching and applying for grants.
- Sending out “thank you” notes to donors.
- Interviewing applicants (or their case managers) to determine eligibility.
- Networking with other business organizations in the local community to grow HAN’s influence and reach to other nearby business leaders.
What is one thing you have learned from being successful?
It is important to me to give back in a way that directly impacts others in a practical and positive way so that they can be better off in life.
Is there a mistake you have made starting out that you wish you could change?
In the past, I have been very trusting of people. I believed that others would conduct themselves with the same level of integrity that I engage in. I’m wiser now and I “inspect what I expect” by adhering to a stricter process of performing due diligence.
What advice would you give someone starting out?
Research as much as you can about the area you want to get involved in. Whether it’s a for-profit business or a non-profit charity, become a subject matter expert. Once you map out the direction you want to go, assemble a team of trusted and talented people to help you.
What are you most proud of?
That despite personal and professional setbacks, I was able to stay focused on the outcomes I wanted to achieve and in doing so, I was still able to accomplish many of my goals.
What advice would you have for people who may feel discouraged?
Create a toolkit to help you stay focused when you feel discouraged. For me, it’s my “dream book” which showcases everything I want to achieve in my life to create a legacy for others.
Any upcoming projects you are working on?
We are planning to do a virtual fundraiser in April, contact me for more information.
Where can people connect with you online?
HAN is on several social media platforms including FB, Twitter, and Instagram. We are just starting the process of creating and posting content.
Facebook: Helping America Now
YouTube: Helping America Now
Do have any apps, books or tips that you use to be more productive?
Dale Carnegie’s advice…each evening, make a short list of the most important tasks for the following day.
How do you manage time? I use a good old-fashioned day planner. I used to keep an electronic calendar and after a couple of scheduling mishaps (system upgrades or some other technical issue altered information), I decided to go back to pen and paper. I haven’t had any issues, it’s been five years now.
What is the best advice you have received?
To always share the story and vision for HAN. Many people want to make a difference, they just don’t know where to start.
Do you have any advice for people that may feel discouraged about reaching their goals?
My advice is that the best is yet to come and sometimes must be waited for. I remind myself of the Chinese Bamboo…for years it appears to be doing nothing…no growth or changes above the soil. After a few years, it shoots up by several feet in a short period of time. During the stagnant years, its roots were growing deep into the earth.
How import is fitness to success?
I believe that to be our best mentally, we should strive to be our best physically. Nutrition also plays an important part in success, if our body is getting good nutrients, it will function optimally.
Do you enjoy working out? If not, how do you get motivated
I wouldn’t say I enjoy it, but I do it because I like how my body feels afterward, I have more energy throughout the day and I sleep better at night.
Do you have anything you would like to promote or tell us about?
Please visit our website and let us know if you want to get involved to help homeless veterans and their families.
What is the one thing you wish everyone knew?
Homelessness and Mental Illness are challenging but not insurmountable.
You used to flip real estate, do you ever watch flipping shows? How do they compare to real life?
There are a lot of similarities to flipping real estate in real life vs what we see on tv. The only thing I would say I've noticed is different…the folks on tv have their “team of workers” so when they estimate the cost of a remodels of, for example, a bathroom, the tv people say it will cost $1500. In real life, the cost could be a lot more.
Also, there are “cheap and cheerful” ways to cosmetically enhance a property without spending a fortune so if you master the art of where to spend money and where not to spend money, you will reap more profits.
My advice to other investors, educate yourself enough to know what something could actually cost, get multiple bids and don't always go with the cheapest option. As the adage goes “you get what you pay for”. Working smart and being strategic in where and how you invest your dollars will go a long way.
Thank you, Raji, for this great interview. Helping America Now has a wonderful mission, and if you would like to help support homeless veterans please take a moment to donate to HAN and share this post.
Michael launched Your Money Geek to make personal finance fun. He has worked in personal finance for over 20 years, helping families reduce taxes, increase their income, and save for retirement. Michael is passionate about personal finance, side hustles, and all things geeky.