By Karen Jowers
A nonprofit group dedicated to training military spouses, wounded warriors and their caregivers for careers in health care is this year's overall winner of the Newman's Own Awards.
But the military community will see the fruits of other nonprofit organizations' efforts too, with winners planning projects that range from helping military kids plant healthy fruits and vegetables to helping military families reconnect after deployments.
Military to Medicine is one of eight nonprofits receiving the awards, which total $75,000, for their innovative programs to improve the military community's quality of life.
Since the Newman's Own Awards competition began in 1999, it has recognized 133 programs with $650,000. The competition is sponsored by Newman's Own, Fisher House Foundation, and Military Times Media Group.
Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told representatives of the organizations gathered in the Pentagon Hall of Heroes on Sept. 1 that just as service members and their families serve the nation, so do nonprofits.
He said it was clear such groups feel a moral obligation to recognize the service of the military community and to contribute to it.
Cartwright said the gathered volunteers are "representative of a much larger population out there who does this day in and day out without thanks, but contributing to something that makes them feel they are doing their part for this nation."
Military to Medicine, in working with hundreds of military families and wounded warriors and their caregivers, has "found that of all the resources we can provide, few are as powerful as helping a person find a job in an environment where they can succeed, in career they can learn to love," said Daniel Nichols, the group's executive director.
Military to Medicine, a national military service organization of the Inova Health System, received $15,000 to further its mission of helping service members and spouses fast-track a career by streamlining the process of getting skills for entry-level positions.
Military to Medicine also provides access to a job board and develops partnerships with health care professionals, members of the military community, and health care industry employers who have signed commitments to support military family members in their search for health care jobs.
"Military to Medicine is not interested in creating jobs that go nowhere," Nichols said. "We're not interested in teaching information that has no practical use in the workplace.
"We're about creating a health care work force at the ready," connecting the military community to careers to help address the national health care worker shortage, he said.
Other Newman's Own Award winners:
* Carolina Canines for Veterans, Wilmington, N.C., a program that uses military prisoners to train dogs rescued from shelters to be service dogs for wounded veterans.
The training recently moved from Camp Lejeune, N.C. to the Navy Consolidated Brig at Naval Weapons Station Charleston, S.C., because of base realignment and closure actions. The nonprofit organization operates entirely on private donations, and has provided 10 wounded warriors with service dogs. Another six dogs are in the pipeline.
The program has been life-changing for medically retired Army Capt. Leslie Nicole Smith.
"He's my shadow and my angel," said Smith, who received her service dog Issac, mostly a yellow Labrador retriever, a year ago from Carolina Canines for Veterans. Smith separated from the Army after developing a blood disorder while deployed to Bosnia that resulted in the loss of her left leg below the knee and the loss of vision in her left eye.
Issac sticks close to her, on her left side. "I can't imagine my life without him," Smith said. "He's filled that void, and completes that circle. He has helped my confidence. I don't feel like if I'm walking somewhere I have to walk against a wall. And if I'm in the middle of a crowd, it's OK."
* Military Marriage Enrichment, Corsicana, Texas, a program to strengthen military marriages and help couples cope with the unique stresses caused by combat, wounds or multiple deployments.
* Empowering Military Families through Employment, Military Spouse Corporate Career Network, Lake St. Louis, Mo., focusing on employment referral and job training and placement for military spouses, transitioning veterans, war wounded and caregivers. The program will provide virtual training seminars on job preparedness and targeting job searches.
* Project Sanctuary Therapeutic Retreats, Parker, Colo., helping military families reconnect following lengthy separations. It begins with a free, five-night therapeutic mountain retreat using recreation as a form of diversion therapy, but the focus is to help the entire family heal together in a comprehensive two-year program.
* Operation Building Hope, Military Missions in Action, Fuquay-Varina, N.C., adapting disabled veterans' homes using an all-volunteer work force to construct and install ramps and rails, modify bathrooms, lower countertops and widen doorways. The $10,000 will be used to outfit the homes of four veterans — one from World War II, one from the Korean War, one from Vietnam, and one from Desert Storm.
* Books on Bases, Smiles on Faces, Blue Star Families, Alexandria, Va. In conjunction with the charity Kids in Distressed Situations, Books on Bases gives free books to military families. At the launch of the program a year ago in Fayetteville, N.C., the organization distributed more than 10,000 books.
* Kids Blossom Through Gardening, Dover Air Force Base Key Spouse Club, Dover, Del., in partnership with the base's health and wellness center, was developed to educate military children about good nutrition and healthy habits. In addition to classroom teaching about the benefits of fruits and vegetables, the program will help children get hands-on experience with planting and nurturing their own edible container gardens.
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski