Vail Veterans Program Launches New Program to Help Injured Veterans
The Vail Veterans Program will not let a pandemic stop its work to help our nation’s injured veterans and their families.
The COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning to affect Eagle County when veterans left the program’s final winter schedule in the Vail Valley on March 6. Shortly after, the local nonprofit group decided to suspend in-person programs until at least August.
Rethinking the group’s mission led to the creation of “Our Continuing Mission,” a different way to reach program alumni and others.
According to a statement about the program, Our Continuing Mission will “enhance the well-being of injured veterans at home and let them know we are here for them as they continue their journey of healing.”
Vail Veterans Program founder Cheryl Jensen said the pandemic has forced the group to “look carefully at how to support our alumni.”
The group began virtual programming in April, which included newsletters focused on health, wellness, behavioral health and other topics.
This virtual program has been “very successful,” Jensen said, but Our Continuing Mission aims to do more.
Help and comfort
The program provides direct grants to veterans and families for emergency financial assistance, mental health support, caregiver support, family experiences and more.
Candidates are of course selected and most are program alumni. These people, Jensen said, are forever and always part of the Vail Veterans Program family.
“You think about those vets who feel isolated — the world weighs heavily on them,” Jensen said. This weight has only increased with the onset of the pandemic and the shutdown of a large part of the national economy.
Many veterans are in some kind of financial mess, from job loss to bills falling due and the stress that comes with it all.
A little help from Our Continuing Mission can ease some of that stress.
But many veterans who have asked for help are not asking for it themselves. Many vets who wrote asked for support for spouses and family members.
“It’s really beautiful to read these letters,” Jensen said, adding that people have written asking for something as simple as money to hire a babysitter a few times. The answer is often, “how about six times?” said Jensen. Other families have received funds for real vacations, a way to take a break from the pressures of everyday life.
Alumni were asked if they had college or high school graduates. These graduates received an iPad or Surface tablet, engraved with best wishes from the Vail Veterans program.
This year, the program had to cancel a summer program for caregivers, who are often spouses or family members. Most of these caregivers are women.
“They just need a break,” Jensen said, adding that it’s important to understand how important caring for caregivers is.
There is a lot of personal contact with program alumni. It is also important.
Jensen recalled a phone conversation with a black veteran that quickly turned into a psychological discussion about raising three sons in the country’s current racial conflicts.
Through tears, Jensen couldn’t say much more than “tell your boys to stay strong.”
This veteran needed someone to talk to, and hearing that message from Jensen was important.
“I just needed to hear that from a white woman,” Jensen recalled, telling the veteran.
“That’s the beauty of reaching out (veterans) personally,” Jensen said, adding that simple conversations often take a deeper turn.
As pandemic restrictions ease, Jensen believes Our Mission Continues will continue to be an important part of Vail’s veterans program. She hopes that supporters of the program will allow this work to continue.
“This community really loves what we do,” Jensen said. “We feel so connected to our veterans in general.”
Jensen noted that most nonprofit groups in the Valley have had to adjust to current pandemic restrictions. But, she added, changes, including Our Continuing Mission, can be silver linings in the pandemic’s shadow.
“We want to get our in-person programs back,” Jensen said. There are plans for a fall program, although it may be limited to those who can drive to the valley.
And even if the next winter program runs with half the number of participants, it still counts as veterans and families to support and love.
And there will be Our Continuing Mission.
“We have a clear direction now,” Jensen said. “It’s so important, to the people we serve and our donors.”
Providing old and new programs will force the organization to dig deep and probably ask more from donors.
Seems like a pretty easy request.
Jensen said the donors live all over the country, not just in the Vail Valley.
“One of our donors lives in New Jersey,” Jensen said. “He sees the benefits of what we’re doing and said, ‘I want to be a part of it.'”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com.