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Nonprofit Develops ‘Community Blueprint’ to Meet Needs of Military Families

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  • July 20, 2011
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Norfolk, Va. — Public recognition and support for military families and veterans is on the rise, as are resources from all levels of government, along with the private and nonprofit sectors. At a gathering of representatives from nonprofits and veterans service organizations 18 months ago, though, leaders realized there was a lack of guidance available for community organizers who wanted to help veterans and military families but didn’t know where to start.

Following that retreat, several leading nonprofits pledged to create a Community Blueprint to help community leaders assess and improve their region’s support for veterans, service members and their families, Barbara Van Dahlen, founder and president of Give an Hour, told attendees Tuesday at a special session at the ADC 2011 Annual Conference focused on how communities can support military families and veterans. The blueprint — the result of contributions from 75 organizations and agencies — is intended to prepare communities to organize the resources and services needed to help military families lead healthy lives.

For each of eight service areas, the planning tool lists practices recommended by experts. The employment component, for example, lists sponsoring job fairs as one recommended activity, Van Dahlen said. The other seven service areas are education, behavioral health, financial/legal issues, homelessness, family strength, reintegration and volunteerism.

Several tenets underlie the blueprint:

  • no single organization can provide for all the needs of military families;
  • public-private partnerships are ideal for addressing the needs of service members and their families; and
  • harnessing the wealth of resources available in communities would make a tremendous difference in the lives of those who serve.

ADC planned the special session in recognition of the fact that the need to address the issue of military family support has become increasingly critical for the nation in the wake of the sacrifices made by the nation’s Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 10 years. While the issue has gained a high profile recently — primarily due to the involvement of First Lady Michelle Obama and the vice president’s wife, Jill Biden — it requires long-term planning and provides a unique opportunity for defense communities to play a leadership role and ensure that support is sustained.

This spring the Points of Light Institute agreed to adopt the blueprint as a national initiative; it will roll out the blueprint this fall, said Van Dahlen, a psychologist who founded Give an Hour in 2005. Give an Hour is dedicated to addressing the mental health needs of military personnel, their families and the communities they live in.

Last month, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation awarded Give an Hour $2 million to implement the blueprint in two demonstration sites, Norfolk and Fayetteville, N.C. The Walmart Foundation will distribute $144,000 to local organizations in the two cities to support the program.

One outstanding issue that will be key to the initiative’s success will be the ability of its organizers to integrate with the services already being offered by DOD and each of the military branches. To provide effective and sustainable care to military families, communities ultimately will need to create a single point of contact for those issues, session attendees concluded.

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