Community Impact

By Contributing Editor Blair Drake

In July, the MOAA Military Family Initiative (MMFI), through its new Community Outreach Grant program, awarded its inaugural grants to MOAA councils or chapters actively providing programs and services making a real difference in the lives of servicemembers and veterans and their families in their local communities. Here’s a look at the programs being funded by these grants.

Finding four-legged companions

For veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress and disabilities, reintegrating into so-called “normal” life can be especially challenging. But having a canine companion can make a world of a difference.

Through the Paws for Vets program, sponsored by the Beck PRIDE Center for Wounded Veterans at Arkansas State University, eligible disabled veterans are matched with a rescue dog and then complete 18 weeks of training with their new companion. Paws for Vets covers the training cost, part of the adoption fee, spay/neuter costs, and shots, which is where the MMFI grant the Northeast Arkansas Chapter received will help, says former Marine Corps Capt. Henry “Hank” Germer, chapter president. He says chapter members watch the veterans and their dogs training together, and the chapter will hold a graduation ceremony at the completion of training.

Germer describes an example of how a companion dog helps a veteran: “There was one individual whom I met, he became extremely agitated when something was going on behind him. He got this dog, they went through the training, and the dog now reacts by moving [the veteran] or moving the person from being behind [the veteran].”

He says the chapter is excited about this program and the impact it will have on veterans in northeast Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee, the area Paws for Vets predominantly serves. “This program will improve veterans’ lives — their quality of life,” Germer says. “It gives them a service dog that will enable them to get over the rough spots. It helps the veteran [and] their family and the rescue dog.”


Meeting unmet needs

When a veteran suffering ongoing medical issues was told by his doctor not to come back until he paid his overdue bill, Loudon Veterans and Family Support (LVFS) in Virginia wrote a check for $142 to ensure the veteran could continue receiving the care he needed.

This is just one of the many examples of how LVFS has made a difference in the lives of veterans and their families. The Falcons Landing (Va.) Chapter, along with Community Lutheran Church, founded this community coalition, which assists veterans and their families whose needs are not addressed by government programs.

Most referrals come from other assistance organizations in Loudoun County that cannot address the client’s need. According to Col. Peter Scott, USAF (Ret), treasurer of the Falcons Landing Chapter, when LVFS receives a referral, a management volunteer meets face-to-face with the veteran and their family to understand and validate the need. This volunteer also validates the applicant’s veteran status by requiring a DD Form 214. Then, assuming LVFS can help, the management volunteer and the client develop a plan of action, with the goal of resolving the client’s need in six months.

Scott says the MMFI grant will increase the number of veterans and ways LVFS helps.

 “There are indeed veterans who have fallen through the government safety nets and who have real needs,” Scott says. “They’ve given to their country, and the least we can do is give [them] a hand up.”


Making holidays brighter

For more than a decade, the Luke (Ariz.) Chapter annually has donated hundreds of cans of food around Christmastime for active duty military families at nearby Luke AFB. According to the chapter’s chaplain, Maj. Fannalou Guggisberg, USAF (Ret), who runs the food-relief program, the chapter works with the base chaplains, who provide a suggested shopping list and identify recipients. The food-relief program helps more than 100 families each year.

Luke Chapter President Col. Mike Kramer, USAF (Ret), says with the help of the grant, the chapter wants to expand its food-relief program to include the Thanksgiving season.

“Many enlisted families are on food stamps,” Kramer says, “and food sure seems to go fast around the holidays.”

In addition, the chapter would like to provide small cash grants of $500 to $1,000 to active duty enlisted military families in financial need due to medical or other family financial emergencies. 

“There’s an unmet need there,” Kramer says. “We want to broaden our outreach. We’re about service and [want to] never stop serving.”


Helping children heal

Since 9/11, nearly 5,000 children have lost a parent who served in the military, according to the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. Camp Hometown Heroes in Grafton, Wis., provides a healing environment — with activities, programs, and pediatric grief specialists — to help these children cope and bond with other children experiencing the loss of a military parent. The national summer camp is free for children ages 7-17 who have lost a loved one who served in the U.S. military.

Members of the Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter have volunteered at the camp for several years, including Col. Glen Armstrong, USA (Ret), who also is president of the Wisconsin Council of Chapters. “It’s an excellent program,” he says.

Volunteers help in various capacities, including greeting campers at the airport, maintaining the camp, and serving as educators, counselors, and security during the weeklong camp.

Armstrong says since the first camp session in 2013, the number of campers has continued to grow, from about 60 to 180 this past July. The Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter will use its grant money to sponsor Wisconsin campers.

“[Camp Hometown Heroes] is such a worthwhile endeavor,” Armstrong says. “It’s supporting our servicemembers and their families, and it’s a fulfilling experience for the chapter.”


Delivering financial and food assistance

About 21,000 veterans live in Highlands County, Fla., and many are destitute, homeless, or otherwise financially challenged, according to Col. Michael Borders, USA (Ret), president of MOAA’s South Central Florida Chapter. To help meet the needs of this population, the Highlands County Veterans Council, comprising 30 veterans’ organizations including the South Central Florida Chapter, formed in 2007. The council, among other functions, offers financial assistance up to $350 for one-time support to honorably discharged veterans for emergency needs. Borders, who serves as the chapter’s representative on the council, points out money is not given to the veteran; the council takes the bill and pays it. “This ensures the monies go to their intended purposes,” he says.

In addition, the council provides food assistance to needy veterans in the community through a food pantry that is continually stocked, including by donations from South Central Florida Chapter members.

Borders says MMFI grant will support both of these efforts. “To this point, we will dedicate $2,800 to supporting the needy veterans in the community with paying bills and other emergency expenses,” he explains. “The remaining $429 will be used to support the pantry and the Thanksgiving and Christmas food baskets — which, of course, go to needy veterans as well.”


Providing a pathway to self-sufficiency

The Georgetown Works program in Georgetown County, S.C., is committed to helping community members in need move up and out of poverty. The program, a project of Friendship Place, offers job training and placement with local business partners. But getting a job is a small part of the process, according to Col. Greg Hill, USA (Ret), chaplain and chair of member personal affairs of the Grand Strand Chapter. Clients also need to maintain the job and advance in that job, typically a six-year journey.

Hill says Friendship Place, which is run by a veteran, will use the Community Outreach Grant to begin a program targeted at bringing veterans and their family members into Georgetown Works.

“The idea is to provide a pathway to self-sufficiency by identifying and removing barriers that prevent [veterans] from moving forward,” Hill says. Those barriers include health care, including mental health care; transportation; legal; and overall lack of support. “Our county is very veteran-friendly,” he says, “but there is not an awareness of the large number of veterans who need basic services that help them move toward independence.”


Assisting during temporary crisis

Each fall, homeless veterans in South Carolina have free access to medical and dental care, haircuts, VA claims processing, employment services, meals, and other needed services at the Myrtle Beach Veterans Stand Down. The Grand Strand Chapter has supported the event for three consecutive years, including two years as one of the key sponsors. In addition to providing financial assistance to the Stand Down, chapter members help with planning and volunteer at the event.

According to Col. Rufus Manning, USAF (Ret), personal affairs and veterans outreach chair of the Grand Strand Chapter and cochair of the Stand Down planning committee, the MMFI grant is helping the chapter support veterans in a variety of ways. “Some of the money was used to provide nonperishable food items and cold-weather ‘warm-up kits’ to homeless veterans during our the 2017 Stand Down in September,” Manning explains. “In addition, some of the funds were used to support a local disabled veteran’s family that is new to our area and sought housing and needed immediate assistance with kitchen items and food supplies.” He says the chapter will continue working with other local veterans’ service organizations to identify veterans in need of housing, clothing, food, transportation, training, counseling, etcetera.

“We’re helping veterans in temporary crisis by ensuring they have shelter and nourishment,” Manning says. “We’re also helping the community by reducing potential public nuisances [and] panhandling on the streets and avoiding a potential increase in criminal and vagrancy activity and domestic violence.”


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