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Brian Faulds and Ronnie Miley, military veterans and AmeriCorps VISTA members serving Volunteer Macon through the ALA Call to Service Corps, have spent the last few months of their service terms focusing on an often ignored group of veterans — those experiencing incarceration.
Most recently, Faulds and Miley contributed to a service fair for incarcerated veterans organized by TOPSTEP (The Offender and Parolee State Training Employment Program), an initiative of the Georgia Department of Labor.
The service fair took place at Riverbend Correctional Facility, a medium-security complex in Milledgeville, which is exploring ways to decrease recidivism and create positive outcomes for those people it releases. The VISTA members represented Volunteer Macon and the Macon Community Blueprint, sharing information about community resources for offender veterans upon their release and providing tips for locating employment in the communities to which they will be returning.
“It was great,” said Faulds, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. “(The veterans) said they felt human again. It was the first time (since their imprisonment) they were recognized for their (military) service.”
Incarcerated veterans face many of the same issues returning to civilian society as do transitioning servicemembers, such as finding employment, behavioral health services and readjusting to an environment markedly different from the one to which they have grown accustomed. Though often overlooked in the ongoing national conversation about veterans, incarcerated veterans are both significant in number and in dire need of support.
“It’s really interesting when you look at recidivism and compare it to the problem of veterans re-entering society,” Faulds said. “We’ve found that in both cases the major benchmark is getting a job. It’s reinforces the idea that (the individual) is a stakeholder in the community.”
Both Faulds and Miley are finding their service to incarcerated veterans greatly rewarding. Miley, a veteran of both the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army, and a second term AmeriCorps VISTA member through the ALA Call to Service Corps, was effusive about the project and his national service. “It’s a passion for me,” he said. “I think it’s my mission to serve veterans. They’re my comrades-in-arms and I feel close to them.”
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Deborah Hoselton, an AmeriCorps member serving Operation Homefront through the ALA Call to Service Corps, played a critical role in implementing two of the organizations’ support programs for the military community during her just completed service term.
Hoselton was pivotal in executing Operation Homefront’s Fly Away Home initiative, which provides deployed servicemembers with flights home for Father’s Day. This respite for servicemembers is essential for their own well-being as well as the whole military family. “We received about a thousand applications,” Hoselton said. “I screened and ranked applications based on criteria like rank, wounded status, and time away from family. Working with all these families, coordinating their travel…It was a wonderful experience.”
Hoselton also orchestrated the Saban Military Wife Educational Scholarship, a joint program of Operation Homefront and the Women’s Self Worth Foundation. The scholarship helps wives of uniformed servicemembers attend vocational training programs in the medical field. Hoselton was responsible for coordination of the scholarship, which involved evaluating applications, notifying winners of their selection, and helping winners choose eligible institutions.
As both a former military spouse and the daughter of a servicemember, Hoselton held a deep personal investment in her service assignment. Hoselton is a licensed counselor, and originally joined her sponsoring organization due to its work around behavioral health. “I’ve always been involved in the community to some extent,” she said. “I have a background in psychology and was interested in Operation Homefront’s work with [servicemembers and veterans] with PTSD.”
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Through widespread public support and a collaborative team of staff and volunteers, Operation Homefront, a national veteran service organization, aspires to be the provider of choice for emergency financial and other assistance to wounded warriors, veterans and military families.
Shelby Mathis, an AmeriCorps National member assigned to Operation Homefront through the ALA Call to Service Corps, has taken on an atypical (but allowable) AmeriCorps service assignment for the organization: graphic designer. In her position, Mathis is responsible for much of the design and branding material of the organization’s many distinct programs and initiatives.
“Being able to do so much as an entry-level designer has been great,” said Mathis, whose innovation and talent have made her a valuable asset to Operation Homefront. “Nowhere else would give me the same level of responsibility.”
Mathis, who graduated from the University of Central Missouri with a bachelor’s of fine arts in graphic design, spent her time freelancing in San Antonio, Texas before joining Operation Homefront.
“I was already volunteering with other veteran service organizations, especially the American Red Cross and the USO,” she said. “I knew Operation Homefront was based here, and I thought the organization would be a perfect fit.”
Over the course of her service year, Mathis has worked on rebranding seven major programs, including Operation Homefront’s successful Back to School Brigade, an annual project that distributes donated school supplies to military children in need.
Her favorite project has been Hearts of Valor, a program that provides female caregivers with opportunities to build relationships, access resources and enjoy brief moments of rest and respite from their caregiving responsibilities. Hearts of Valor was previously known as Wounded Warrior Wives. Mathis was responsible for the creation of a program brochure, multiple flyers and a suite of web graphics.
“It started totally from scratch, which is always fun for me because I have a lot of freedom,” Mathis said. “And the director of that program was really great.”
After her term of service ends, Mathis and her husband, an active-duty servicemember, will undergo a permanent change of station to Portugal. She hopes to continue as a graphic designer in her new home.
Please note that we discussed the work of several other ALA Call to Service Corps members assigned to Operation Homefront in a previous post. If you’d like to learn about more about them, you can view the post here.
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Founded in 2008, Blue Star Families has rapidly emerged as a prominent and visible organization serving the military community. It has attracted the attention of public figures such as first lady Michelle Obama and has become an integral partner to the White House’s Joining Forces military and veteran support initiative.
A signature program of Blue Star Families (BSF) is Operation Honor Corps. The program is managed by Michelle Vaughn, an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving Blue Star Families through the American Legion Auxiliary Call to Service Corps.
“When I first got here, [Operation Honor Corps] was pretty basic,” Vaughn said. “It just tracked hours, which didn’t really produce tangible results.”
Since she has taken the charge of the project, Operation Honor Corps has transformed into a robust tool to recruit, measure, record and advertise the contributions of volunteers nationwide.
There are three major components of Operation Honor Corps. The first involves the “Honor Wall,” which serves as a visual representation of the Honor Corps ethos. The wall is set up and staffed by Michelle Vaughn at events throughout Washington, D.C. “Honor Cards” are circulated at Honor Wall events. In the cards, attendees can pledge service hours for the coming year and record their particular service areas of interest (such as military families, veterans, or homelessness and others). These pledged hours are later aggregated and recorded on the Joining Forces website and the Honor Wall. Recent events to feature the Honor Wall include the White House Holiday Tour, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on the National Mall, and the American Legion Auxiliary’s Washington DC Conference.
The second major component of Operation Honor Corps involves coordination with partner organizations in support of major service projects. Operation Honor Corps is currently engaged in four collaborative projects including the National Military Family Association’s “MyMilitaryLife” smartphone app.
The final component of Operation Honor Corps involves the collection of pledged volunteer hours from organizations. These hours are aggregated and highlighted on the Joining Forces website. Once a month, Vaughn discusses the efforts of a high-achieving organization in the monthly Operation Honor Corps newsletter, which she writes, organizes and distributes.
Vaughn’s success with Operation Honor Corps will likely remain her most enduring legacy as an AmeriCorps VISTA. However, her favorite project so far remains a Christmas party she organized at Walter Reed.
“Close to 200 veterans and families came out,” she said. “We had a Santa Claus, and every kid walked away with a Christmas present. It was a great day for our wounded warriors.”
AmeriCorps VISTA Member Helps Code of Support Foundation Generate Public Support for Military and Veterans April 29, 2013Posted by servicecorpsnews in Accomplishment Spotlight.
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AmeriCorps VISTA member Chelsea Hilton, who serves through the American Legion Auxiliary Call to Service Corps, plays a lead role in assisting the Code of SupportFoundation implement its public awareness and service generation programs.
Hilton was a vital asset to the organization’s successful “A Musical VetStravaganza,” a concert designed to raise awareness of the organization’s Veterans Hiring & Education Initiative.
The concert, held on February 17at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium, featured country stars Mark Wills and David Kroll, as well as the West Point Cadet and Alumni Glee Clubs, the Homefire Military Wives’ Choir and the 4Troops Veteran Quartet. The event was an overwhelming success, with a sold-out audience of more than 1,500 in attendance.
Prior to the concert, the Code of Support Foundation held a reverse hiring fair to advocate for veterans and military spouses. Local employers attended an information session where they discussed the myriad benefits of hiring from within the veteran and military community relative to civilian employees. The end result was a more informed group of employers, many of whom reported being more likely to hire veterans and military spouses as a result of the session.
Hilton was integral to the planning and execution of the concert and reverse hiring fair. She created event invitations, compiled veteran and military spouse hiring resources for distribution to local employers and concert attendees, conducted social media outreach for the VetStravaganza, engaged local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, and researched attending organizations.
“I was a little nervous because it was my first event,” Hilton said. “But it turned out really well. We had great turnout, and I’ve heard great things from the attendees.”
Hilton has since moved on to new projects, foremost among them the Code of Support Foundation’s annual Flag Day Give-Back-24 Challenge. The Challenge will include a series of service projects designed to bring military and civilian families together. Hilton is currently in the process of identifying potential projects, preparing tools to facilitate the process for attendees and researching potential partner organizations.