“It's been a long, a long time coming. But I know a change gon' come, oh yes it will.”
- Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke is stalking me. A Change is Gonna Come has been stuck in my head for the past three days and it won’t leave me alone (technically, it’s the Leela James’ rendition). I’m OK with that because it’s a rich, soulful song that genuinely stirs up an ache for “next things.”
In my last blog I wrote about how we should no longer be saying we want to help veterans. Instead, we should embrace the idea that collaboration between veterans and civilians is the more significant step toward reintegration and building cohesive communities. We realized that to better meet the needs of veterans of all eras and create holistic communities we needed to step beyond our current programming into a bold new endeavor. To do this we asked you, the community, “What matters most to you in bridging the veteran-civilian divide?” The answers flooded in and were passionate! They included: move from dialogue to action, address education and employment concerns, highlight veterans’ skillsets, continue to offer a safe space for veterans and civilians to engage with one another, more organic conversations, and be more inclusive with dialogue opportunities, among others. We took the feedback from stakeholders meetings, surveys, post-event debriefs and conversations with Dialogue participants and developed a fresh, three-part innovative program that is adaptable to the long-term changing needs of returning veterans and their communities. We created Service Together.
The name embodies the spirit of the new program — those who have served in the military, those who are serving their communities and acts of service side-by-side. It represents the togetherness of our efforts, of holistic communities where veterans and civilians value and support the various skills each brings to the effort. Service Together maintains conversations as the cornerstone to closing the veteran-civilian divide, but now offers ways that people from all over the nation can participate via Google Hangout events and our new social media outlets including Facebook, Twitter, and eventually Tumblr.
But conversational connection isn’t enough. At your request, we are now moving from dialogue to action through our new community service projects. These projects will be led by two Ambassadors — one veteran and one civilian — who will identify improvement needs in their respective communities. The best part? Stereotypes will be shattered, friendships will be built, and understanding about the veteran experience will happen in a more organic way. We will partner with community-oriented programs such as service platoons from The Mission Continues and volunteers from VetThreads.
But wait! There’s more! (I couldn’t resist.) In an effort to meet veteran employment needs and empower a supportive corporate culture nationwide, we are launching the STEP initiative for student-veterans. STEP stands for the Service Together Education Program and is comprised of relationships with area universities and corporate partners. Unlike other internship programs, this initiative will include blind evaluations from corporate employers, opportunities for student veteran interns to demonstrate their civic & professional contributions, intern-to-hire opportunities, and military cultural competency training for corporate employers. This comprehensive approach not only helps employ military veterans, but also creates an ongoing culture of retention and support at the corporate level. STEP will enter beta testing next month.
And so, I respectfully announce that The Veteran-Civilian Dialogue is taking its final bow after five years of deeply meaningful work. Countless selfless hours put forth from eighteen dedicated volunteers made our work possible. But cue the house lights because we are ready to get back to work through Service Together! Our volunteer Ambassadors are currently training to be online administrators for virtual conversations, as well as to lead panel discussions and service projects. We are excited to bring Service Together to life, together with you.
I invite you to join us in our new venture, and to celebrate our journey with a kickoff event on November 17th @ the Intersections Office from 6:30-8:30PM. RSVP via firstname.lastname@example.org. The evening will introduce our new programming, a panel discussion and the opportunity to sign up for upcoming service projects. You won’t want to miss it!