Blues musician sings man's praises for giving fellow veterans a hand up

Mike Eisenhower (Right) is a case worker for the Compensated Work Therapy program at the VA. (Photo credit: John Le, WLOS)

Our Person of the Week uplifts veterans at the lowest point in their lives.

Mike Eisenhower's a case worker in the Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) program at the VA. He sees many veterans wind up playing the same disheartening tune.

"It ain't the Asheville I heard about on the brochure," observed Reggie Best, who was homeless just a year ago.

He's worked at Goodwill Industries on Patton Avenue for about a year, and joined us to sing Mike's praises.

"Let me see what she do," he said, pulling out his guitar. "My guitar's named Grandma." Then he belted out a blues tune that'll stay in your head for days.

"Well, I don't know, just don't know, y'all," he sings with a booming voice.

Best's life was once a worst-case scenario with no job, and no hope.

"But mostly the guitar's just another arm to tell my story," he explained. "When I was homeless on the street, this was my way out."

"Looking around this room, the people I see are people that inspired me," Mike points out. "We have people in this room from current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, going back to Vietnam."

Reggie's voice echoes so many other stories in the CWT program. Many of those veterans gathered to tell us how much Eisenhower means to them.

"When I was at a point in my life where I was giving up," explained Candice Matelski.

"I came from a place where life was falling apart," said Bruce Tucker.

"When you're homeless and recovering from drug addiction, it's hard to trust," John Alexander says.

They all said it's Mike who cultivated their comeback. As a former Marine, Mike served in Iraq, but for the past seven years in CWT he made his job his mission.

"The program that's geared toward short-term work training, and moving on to get a job," he said. "That's the whole point, trying to get a job."

But it's more than that, says Bruce. Mike's people get a confidant, too.

"We get love and someone who really cares. And I think that's important for every veteran," Bruce stressed.

"We've called ourselves a hand up, not a hand out," Eisenhower said. "Everybody in here just kinda shook their head, it's something we all know."

That hand up gave John a fighting chance.

"That's all I can say, he's a good guy and he cares about the veterans, and I don't want to get tearful," John said, pausing. "But he helped me a lot."

The faces in the crowd speak volumes about their trust in Mike. It's the bond that gave Reggie something to build on.

"He's old, I'm young. He listens," Reggie said. "And they never said 'You're not gonna make it.'"

"I'd like to give Mike a round of applause, and then I got to get to work!" he added as the crowd dispersed.

When it comes to life, he's changed his tune after many years of singin' the blues.

"I believe in the power of them," Mike said. "With Reggie's story, that resonates."

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