Koret’s Veterans Initiative: Serving those who have served our country

Special Projects

Koret’s Veterans Initiative: Serving those who have served our country

Special Projects

In the spring of 2019, Koret launched a new grantmaking initiative to support local military veterans. In this new initiative, six high-performing organizations were selected for their work in addressing key barriers for returning service members as they rejoin civilian life in the Bay Area.

We sat down with Koret President Michael Boskin to hear more about the vision behind Koret’s support for this important and often overlooked population.

Q: Why did Koret decide to make veterans issues a priority?

A: Veterans have given a lot for our country. Regardless of what one thinks about the propriety of recent conflicts, they are the ones who have defended the country and served us well, and many of them have come back home with physical and mental challenges. It’s our responsibility to help support them in dealing with the difficulties of re-integrating into civilian life.

I first became involved with veterans issues many years ago when my wife launched, with a little help from me, a program for wounded service members, originally for amputees and the blind, but quickly evolved to be specifically for veterans with PTSD, after it became clear that the concussive violence of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan made that the signature wound of these wars. Talking to and interacting with these veterans made me realize the serious issues they were and are facing. Through that work, I realized there were significant gaps in services for veterans by the government and other organizations. This round of grants is our initial attempt to invest in creative solutions to augment current services in the Bay Area.

Q: How do veterans’ issues in the Bay Area differ from elsewhere, and how will these grants address this?

A: There are tens of thousands of veterans in the Bay Area. Many of them are successful at rapidly re-integrating into civilian society, but tragically, many suffer mental health setbacks, remain out of work or even homeless in the Bay Area. The very high housing costs here, despite the Bay Area’s low unemployment rate and the demand for tech-sector jobs, means that you have to earn a fair amount just to be able to afford to live here. Many veterans are forced to move far away for affordable housing, which then makes it increasingly difficult to travel back to the Bay Area for work, healthcare, and other needs.

It’s important that we create opportunities to maximize veterans’ potential, and many veterans have great potential that has been interrupted. More and more, we’ve become aware of the obstacles returning veterans face in employment, medical care, and rejoining their community. We’re hoping to offset these barriers and expand veterans’ access to critically needed services. We hope to achieve better health outcomes, more and better jobs, and a better sense of community among and between veterans. Our grants aim to give veterans a helping hand in the right direction.

Q: What does success look like?

A: Koret’s mission is to strengthen the Bay Area community and our role is to help good organizations do important work. What Koret can do is to fund innovative solutions that help demonstrate effective ways to produce results that can serve as a model for organizations, individuals, and government programs through multi-year grants and evaluation. Shorter-term initiatives can blaze a trail for long-term solutions.

As a foundation, we can be nimble and take some risks with our funding, so we view this Veterans Initiative like social venture capital. And, as with all venture capital, at some point in time, programs will either prove successful – in which case there will be opportunities to expand – or unsuccessful – in which case we will have learned from the experience.

We started small, and narrow, to see what works. Over the next three years, we will evaluate what we’ve done to see if it makes sense to continue, expand, or collaborate with others to ensure government programs have fewer holes in their safety net for veterans.

 

See below for three examples of grants from Koret’s Veterans Initiative.

  • Physical and mental healthcare: Higher Ground

    Higher Ground uses recreational therapy with counseling resources to address symptoms of PTSD and traumatic brain injuries and teach veterans to cope with the challenges of readjusting to civilian life. It does so by rekindling the skills they learned in the service through activities like skiing and water sports in a nonthreatening and supportive environment, which allows them to work collaboratively with others who are experiencing similar issues.

    Many of these veterans are highly introverted about their issues and experiences, but through this program almost all of them seem to respond positively. Counselors follow up with participating veterans for three years afterward to provide support services jointly with organizations back in their home communities, to ensure they continue to get the help and support they need. The initial success of this program was eye-opening and left a lasting impression.

    Koret’s grant to Higher Ground provides three years of funding to extend the program to more Bay Area veterans, as well as their spouses or partners, who play a key role in the physical and mental recovery and healing of service members as they return home.

     

  • Workforce development: Goodwill Industries of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin

    Historically in the United States, there used to be explicit preferences for hiring veterans in many industries and in the civil service. But as we’ve moved away from the draft and toward a volunteer military, only a subset of veterans gets training in technology that is readily transferable to the private sector.

    There are many federal government job training programs, but they don’t often follow up with the veterans they’ve trained for long afterward, so we’re not sure how they do in terms of longterm placement. So it’s important that veterans are connected to a workforce development program that has a history of placing people in permanent jobs, and that’s where Goodwill comes in.

    Goodwill Industries of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin has launched a new career training program for veterans, built on the organization’s 100-year history of solid workforce development. By designing a new training curriculum specifically for veterans, Goodwill is creating a pathway to sustainable careers while helping veterans to develop a support network of their peers. The idea behind this and similar grants is to better inform the veterans of the opportunities that await them if they upgrade their skills or learn new skills, and to put them in a program that steers them to the jobs that exist in the modern civilian economy.

  • Community building: The Mission Continues

    As they return to civilian life, many veterans experience a loss of purpose and community away from their military units and the people they have come to trust in perilous situations. Without that community, there are many veterans who withdraw and don’t have a lot of communication with others, and are consequently at risk of negative outcomes associated with isolation.

    Through these grants, we hope to help re-create the bonds that veterans establish during their service, to reduce some of that extreme introversion and isolation, and nurture ties between and among veterans to help them flourish and become a productive part of their community.

    The Mission Continues is a nationally recognized organization that helps returning veterans rebuild a sense of purpose and community though local service projects like park beautification and school improvements. A grant to support the Oakland and San Francisco “service platoons” will allow the groups to grow in number and tackle larger civic projects, empowering veterans to find a sense of purpose while improving their community and connecting with peers.

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