Updated: May 5, 2020
My Identity and Communities
Like many other humans living their lives, I have more traits embedded in me than there are cards in a deck! As you may recall from "My Identity and Community/ies" and "My Communities, Social Capital Networks, & their Civic Engagement!" a few of my current most surface-level identities include being part of the EDM community, freelance entrepreneurship, and the military-veteran warriors, to name a few.
I've gone and expressed a hefty amount of my interest in my EDM family already. My cross-country travels with them have been some of the most memorable experiences of my life so far. While they are family, so are many others. My most unforgettable community will forever be, hands-down, with my military brothers and sisters while in the United States Marines Corps (USMC). I think most people have a friend or family member who is or was a service-member. Most people have some foundational understanding of service-members, them being called-to-action, and the toll it can take on them and their loved ones. Most of them are under 25 and oftentimes fresh out of high school. An active duty service-member spends anywhere from two to five years stationed where their designated branch desires them, which can be as far as across the world. In a troops' time away from home, a lot can happen for both them and their family.
Once their contract is nearing its end, that service-member has several options to choose from. They can either re-enlist, if eligible, or receive a discharge. If a troop doesn't re-enlist, rather they opt to discharge, sometimes they may not have a family to return to. Some may not have any trustworthy friends. Some get medically separated for conditions out of their control, such as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) or war-zone wounds slowing their ability to perform everyday tasks. There are many factors that can play into why a veteran experiences hardship upon entering and maintaining a civilian lifestyle. A handful of my brothers were honorably discharged from service with zero ideas about what they were planning on doing for their self-sustainability in the civilian world. However, no matter what that reason for failure-to-adapt may be, no veteran should ever have to worry about employment, food, housing, clothes, or shelter.
Entering into my Fall 2019 semester at ASU, one project I had worked on also involved the veteran community. This project asked me to research hunger and poverty within a community of our choice; mine was clearly veterans. I began my research and started to see how high some of the numbers across the states are for veteran-homelessness. What's even more, is that veterans make up roughly ten percent of the nation's entire homeless community as of April 2019, according to Ryan Guina with The Military Wallet in his article Homeless Veterans in America. These are conditions no human, let alone our veterans, should be subjected to in the fast-paced world we live in today. There are many programs that exist already to assist veterans in almost every circumstance. Since my veteran research project from October 2019, I've had an interest in wanting to be a part of some veteran community that gives back in some way. The time has finally come for that next step in a volunteer opportunity.
I want to start with a preface on what my course of action would look like if I were in charge of gathering a community of people with a shared identity and interest with veterans struggling in their transition from the military to the civil world. In order to initiate any sort of social movement or public service, you first should find supporters. In other words, someone with a shared identity on the matter. An individual can do little alone, but a group of them can make a difference. My first step in gathering people would be to start with my immediate resources; my own military network.
While serving for several years between a couple of units (V27 and 3/11), spending seventy-percent of my time with the infantry battalion, I not only bonded with all of the men and women I served with but we also built upon our social capital with one another. Some of them live near, in which case I can make a vehicle trip 15-minutes away to catch up with them. While others exist across the country. To support this distance, I have at least one social media group via Facebook that I use to keep in touch with at least 120 of my fellow warriors. Each of these individuals has their own network of men and women that they also served with. Let's call this the "Domino Effect;" I reach out to my resources, they reach out to theirs, they reach out to theirs, and so on. If you've ever seen Pay It Forward (2000), the concept is essentially the same.
Second, I'd reach out to my next most valuable resource; family and friends. I'd explain to them what this community means to me, what it could mean to them in their own way (if they don't already feel connected through me), what the issue is, and how we might be able to make a difference. Let's go ahead and reinstate the Domino Effect here with my family and friends, and their family and friends, and so on.
After I've successfully gathered some other supporters under the same identity umbrella, military-veterans, I'd work with the team to develop a plan for proactive solutions to veteran-community issues. As we work through our plan to kick start the change we will make in our community, we will have powered on a fundraiser through an online platform (Facebook, GoFundMe, etc.) in order to raise funds for promotional budgeting and contingencies. This can be used in conjunction with social media promotional campaigns to help spread the word of the movement and to gain more local or national traction. But let's be honest, the financially wiser decision when you're just starting out a movement meant for such an impact is probably to stay local until you can afford the extra inputs to expand outward. In this time of modern technology, I believe online outreach can be a good starting point to gather people who may be interested in supporting such a movement.
Our social issue, in this case, is veterans in need. Like any other human, this can consist of medical services, housing, food, mental health services, and shelter. Out of the more than 1.5 million active nonprofit organizations, there are bound to be some that already exist to cater specifically for the veteran community. And they most certainly do!
I've identified a few programs, organizations, or volunteer opportunities below within my geographical region, Arizona. Some cater nationally as well, while others may only be specific to Arizona or any area within its confines.
Civic Engagement with Social Organizations
After spending almost a full workday worth of researching, I've identified twelve different volunteer options that can get anyone's foot in the door for making a change to the veteran community in need both in Arizona and nationally. Due to the current spread of COVID-19, I am unable to visit any sort of veteran support service facility at this time in order to help prevent the spread of the virus. This is largely in part because most veterans in need are of the older generation and are more susceptible to the virus due to the natural life cycle of an aging persons' immune system. I wouldn't want to risk my brothers' health by trying to volunteer at the Phoneix VA Medical Center as a newly appointed medical volunteer [intern]. However, I've signed up for a handful of the opportunities and applied my email to volunteer newsletter distribution lists to stay in the loop.
Of the twelve opportunities, I've identified three as my "most interested:" Brothers-in-Arms of Arizona; United Service Organizations; and Home for our Troops. Home for our Troops, otherwise known as HFOT, is a publicly funded 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization. They are dedicated to building and donating specially adapted custom homes nationwide for severely injured post-9/11 Veterans, enabling them to rebuild their lives. The organization has been around since the early-2000's and is often found by veterans through the help of other veteran resources or finds veterans who they believe are eligible and homeowner-worthy. Although they are well established, I've been unable to find population (volunteer numbers, number of personnel servicing, etc) data on this specific organization.
My second organization of interest is the United Service Organizations, also known as the USO. The USO is a congressionally chartered, private organization that caters mostly to active-duty service members. They are not a part of the federal government and have about 30,000 volunteers. Their mission is to strengthen America's military service members by keeping them connected to family, home, and country throughout their service to the nation. During my time in service, nearly every airport I flew out of or into while going on deployment or returning home provided a USO building or room. I never once had a bad experience there. As an example, when I was coming home from a 2016 deployment, many older-generation veterans with USO surprised us at the state-side airport radiating cheers, hugs, food, drinks, and more. They really make you feel welcome. Have you ever heard that saying "the way to a man's heart is through his belly?" Well, you could say they won us over! I submitted an application to the Phoneix Sky Harbor International Airport USO and am awaiting further contact.
The last volunteer organization of interest, frankly, is the one I'm most excited about because it might require a bit of creative work. Which I love! While researching, I came across many third-party websites, like All For Good, that host pages for other smaller, grassroots-type movements and organizations. In my tunnel-digging through all that this particular website has to offer, I came across a small, yet inspiring, local organization; Brothers in Arms of Arizona (BIA). BIA is a nonprofit, social engagement and service organization dedicated to bringing veterans back to the life they deserve by providing homeless veterans housing through Homeless Veteran Outreach. After researching outside of the website for other related sources, I was able to find little on the organization, most notably their website and Facebook page. While reviewing their page info, a few things were provided that lay a more foundational understanding. Founded in June 2019 by Andrew Burcham, this organization has had eyes laid on it by over 310-people, accepts donations, and offers a mini shopping selection where all proceeds go towards the organization's support to clients.
That said, I reviewed the skills and roles of the positions they are looking to fill and sent the coordinator an email to pitch my interest and extend my helping hand. I received an email back from him and we are in talks as we speak to find time to discuss what they have going on and the way(s) I can contribute to assist in getting this organization further off the ground. I'm interested in helping out the veteran community and looking forward to hopefully finding windows of opportunity to use my camera equipment and creative, storytelling skillset while doing so. I believe I can create content centered on this subject matter and that I can give back through capturing moments of veteran events or by helping create social media content to boost the promotional content quality of the organization. Together, we can facilitate an expansion in the movement.
The first three logos below are those of the organizations mentioned above. The remaining are from organizations I've listed on my Social Organization Civic Engagement Matrix chart.