January 9 at 9:57am

Longtime veterans advocate John Kaskurs bids adieu

After 14 years, during which John Kaskurs played a major role in building up veterans programs at Interfaith Community Services, the veterans advocate has retired from the agency.

Kaskurs wore many hats during his time at Interfaith. He actually came to the agency as a client, then became a case manager. He later served as a program manager, then director of the veterans department.

In that capacity, he was deeply involved in obtaining grants that helped make veterans housing at Merle’s Place and in Oceanside a reality. He also helped with grants for the vocational and Recuperative Care programs for veterans.

“He’s been a big part of the history and fabric of this department,” said Dean Dauphinais, program manager for Veterans Assistance of San Diego, a division of Interfaith Community Services. “Having been a client here, he knows what it’s like (to need help). Since then, he’s done everything he can to serve veterans.”

When Kaskurs began working at Interfaith, he recalls the department having just six staff members and a limited number of programs, providing shelter and vocational training to about 35 veterans. ICS now has transitional housing for 164 veterans.

“He has had a hand in every program we have,” said Rob Heinlein, a veterans client advocate for VASD.

Kaskurs figures he has worked with at least 1,000 veterans in his various capacities over the years.

“It’s just been busy, busy, busy,” he said. “There are just so many good programs.”

Kaskurs benefited from some of those when he came to Interfaith. Coming to San Diego from Albuqerque to help a family member who was into drugs, the Army artillery veteran of the Vietnam War ran out of money and didn’t have a place to stay.

“I talked to veterans at the VA and they said to look into this program,” he said. “It’s been wonderful. Interfaith may have saved my life. I had a place to stay. When you’re homeless, it’s hard to keep things together. They gave me my first job here. That was a huge, huge help.”

Kaskurs’ writing skills proved valuable in obtaining grants to create or expand programs, say his colleagues. He was also instrumental in working with cities and construction companies to coordinate efforts to create the veterans facilities at Merle’s Place and in Oceanside, said Craig Jones, Interfaith’s interim executive director.

“John has been a mainstay of the veterans services department as long as I have been here,” said Jones. “He’s been more than a work colleague. He’s been a friend, a delightful person to work with. He’s been a unique person to work with and will be missed.”

Jones also pointed out one of Kaskurs’ lesser-known talents. “He has prodigious musical skills. He plays the piano and has entertained at several Interfaith Community Services events,” he said. Kaskurs plans to do some traveling in the months to come, with trips to Las Vegas and Santa Fe on his upcoming itinerary. After that, he expects to look for another job.

But he definitely enjoyed this one.

“It’s one of the most wonderful things to do what you love and get paid for it. It’s been great,” he said.

Colleagues saluted him at a meeting Dec. 20, followed by a lunch at Sizzler in Oceanside. As he left his longtime job, Kaskurs offered praise to fellow workers who spend every day assisting the veterans in Interfaith’s housing programs. “The people who don’t get enough recognition are the residential managers. That’s where the rubber hits the road,” he said. “Hats off to them.”