NC VetsCorps: Helping the Helping Hands
When Jessica Rodgers graduated in 2013 with a degree in foreign languages, she was looking for international policy experience, but ties to North Carolina and a serendipitous sighting of a Craigslist job posting brought her to MDC’s NC VetsCorps project instead. NC VetsCorps is a statewide AmeriCorps program offering resources and services to veterans, active duty service members, and military families. Supported by a grant from the North Carolina Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service in the Office of Governor Pat McCrory and with matching funds from corporations and foundations, MDC manages the service of 13 AmeriCorps members at nine community-based organizations that provide critical resources and services to veterans and military families.
As a military spouse herself—and with two grandfathers who are veterans—Jessica has a personal connection to the NC VetsCorps mission. She began her service at the United Way of Onslow County and now serves at Family Endeavors, a Jacksonville, N.C., organization that supports homeless veterans and veteran families who have received eviction notices. Family Endeavors’ case management and short-term financial assistance help veterans and their families overcome or avoid homelessness. Jessica conducts eligibility screenings and manages community referrals and follow-ups with clients (an invaluable service for understaffed organizations). She has identified additional resources and compiled a comprehensive resource list for veterans who may not be eligible for Family Endeavors services.
Connecting people to resources has been part of her NC VetsCorps service all along, beginning with the creation of Deployment Readiness Binders while at the United Way. As part of her effort to learn about needs in the veteran and active duty military community, Jessica attended local seminars for military spouses. Speaking with attendees, she learned that many did not feel prepared for a spouse’s deployment. One participant had created her own binder for deployment-related paper work. Jessica decided to create a binder that any spouse could use when his or her counterpart goes on deployment. The binders contain helpful templates for emergency contact lists and budgets, deployment preparation checklists, suggestions for navigating tax-season deployments, information on operations and personal security procedures, childcare resources and activities, emergency financial and nutritional assistance, and more. Jessica produced the binders for Family Readiness Officers (FRO) at the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune; the FROs reported that the binders provided an invaluable lifeline to families going through their first deployment. This time can be emotionally overwhelming, scary, and frustrating; the resources help to ease the burden of preparation.
Jessica helps veterans and their families bear the burdens of deployment using another unique skillset: yoga! She’s been a yoga instructor for several years and offers a free class for military families once a month at a local yoga studio. She is working to incorporate mindfulness practices into Family Endeavors’ case management approach and exploring an opportunity to offer a yoga class at the local vets’ center; the class would be for individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Jessica’s creative response to the needs of the active duty military and veterans in Jacksonville is just one example of how NC VetsCorps members are increasing the capacities of local organizations to meet the needs of a special population in communities across North Carolina, and how the project is developing and demonstrating new models for serving veterans and military families.