The Veterans Non Profit (VNP)
is a 501 (c) (3) founded in El Paso, Texas in 2015. It got its start when our founder, whose job it was to work with homeless veterans to provide job training and job placement under a Department of Labor grant, approached his non-denominational church asking them to form a committee to help fill gaps in the services that he kept encountering. The church saw the need for the services he was describing and the “Veterans Committee” was formed. By December 2014, the committee was composed of 7 long term members, who primarily met the administration needs. An additional 24 individuals were committed and consistent volunteers.
The first gap addressed by the committee was food for hungry veterans and their families. The church’s 501(c) (3) status allowed the community to enter a memorandum of understanding with El Pasoans Fighting Hunger and in April of 2013 the committee opened a food pantry in a small office in the community hall. As the committee planned the food pantry, they expected to help 15-20 veterans a month. The first month, they served forty people and the numbers continued to grow. By November 2014, the food pantry was serving over 220 people a month. The committee quickly recognized the need for mental health services within the population they were serving. This lead to a memorandum of understanding with Emergence Health Network’s Military Veteran Peer Network (MVPN). On November 6th 2014, they began offering facilitated groups for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
By the fall of 2014, the food pantry had taken over another space in the church’s small building. Yet the committee had identified another need that they felt they could address, if they could just figure out the logistics: a clothing closet. Homeless veterans need a source of clean clothes. Other veterans need specific job or interview clothes but could not afford them, making their homed status precarious. The limiting factors were space and resources.
In December 2014, the committee had a strategic planning session. They generated mission, vision, and purpose statements that were independent of their church parent. The committee explored the options for raising funds. It quickly became apparent that the cost of an audit was beyond the means of the tiny church that was supporting them. It was decided, with the blessing of the religious community that it was time for the group to form its own non-profit with 501(c) (3) status. On March 18th, 2015, the group received its non-profit status from the State of Texas. On April 15th, they moved into their current location.
What we do
One of the most important underlying premises for our existence is our desire to care for veterans whose service to our country demands respect. Nearly all of our volunteers, including the Board of Directors, are either veterans, soldiers, or families of veterans and/or soldiers.
In our first year, our food pantry operation alone served more than 360 veteran households comprised of more than 570 unique individuals. From January 1st 2016 through December 31st of 2016, our food pantry alone served 873 unique individuals.
Our goal is to fill in gaps in services and ensure that veterans have the wherewithal to take advantage of other programs. There are programs that assist veterans with job training, job placement, obtaining housing, filing claims (for benefits that often take years to be granted), etc. However, placing a veteran into school or a job when he does not have anything to eat is not a vehicle to success. Likewise, helping an individual get a job, when they cannot afford the required clothing or equipment to keep that job, can become an exercise in frustration for all concerned.
An added benefit of our programs is that when we interact with these men and women over a prolonged period, they often open up and we are able to identify other needs that they may have. We can then help them meet these needs, usually by referral. We have helped veterans find help for addiction problems, mental health problems that cannot be met by the PTSD groups that we now provide, housing needs, finding employment, getting and education and securing the benefits to which they are entitled.
Our PTSD counseling services, led by facilitators trained to Texas’ BEITZ standard, are sometimes used by veterans who will not use VA provided services. Because we exist outside the chain of command or the formal Veterans Administration services, we are sometimes trusted where another source of assistance would not be. Some veterans do not trust the quality of care provided by the VA. Others, desiring a career in federal or law enforcement careers, are hesitant to be labeled as having PTSD for fear it will close off opportunities. In October, we resumed the PTSD support groups that are veteran to veteran and peer to peer. We currently have an agreement with two schools that offer barber/beauty services so that veterans looking for work can get a haircut free of charge. In the first three months of 2017, we have provided haircut/beautician vouchers to 57 veterans. In November, we have added a service animal/pet food pantry after a survey of our clients showed that nearly 55% of them had service animals or pets that they were having difficulty providing for. In the first three months of 2017, our new service animal/ pet food pantry has served an average of 62 veteran households per month. One barrier to employment that many of our veterans face in the border community of El Paso is the inability to speak Spanish. Also in November, we started offering Spanish classes three Saturdays a month free to veterans. And, for veterans with a barrier of transportation, we have completed an agreement with the Sun Metro whereby we can get a Sun Metro Veteran Identification card and three monthly bus passes for veterans looking for work for free and thereafter veterans can purchase their monthly bus passes at a significantly discounted rate. In the first five months of this program we have been able to provide 83 veterans with Sun Metro Veteran ID cards and three monthly bus passes for unlimited rides.
Where we are going – our vision for our future.
Our vision is expansionary in the services we offer. Once we can pay staff, we envision being nearly a one-stop shop for veteran’s needs. We have started building networks with other organizations and groups, particularly those that work with veterans. Eventually we expect to hire an individual to assist with claims for VA benefits and accessing other social services. While there are many groups in our community who provide such services, we feel that referrals, sometimes, can be counterproductive. When veterans develop rapport with our staff, they sometimes disclose information about the source of their PTSD or Military Sexual Trauma which they have not discussed with anyone else. Under such circumstances, it would be helpful if we could provide assistance directly, and not send them to someone else where the must again go through the trauma of retelling their story to a stranger.