Making Illinois the Best State for Veterans to Thrive
by Megan Everett, Veterans Program Director
As 2017 quickly comes to a close, the Veterans Program continues to build and strengthen relationships with our grantees that serve veterans and military families through partnerships with Chicagoland businesses and nonprofits throughout Illinois. This year we have invested more than $2 million in Illinois-based organizations and national organizations that are doing this important work in Illinois. We strive to work alongside our partners, and public and private donors to support impactful work that best supports Illinois veterans.
The McCormick Foundation Veterans Program supports high-quality, integrated, and coordinated services in the areas of education, employment, health and wellness, along with providing capacity and technical support for veteran-centered institutions.
To ensure Illinois is the best state for veterans to come home to, we believe collaboration and coordination among partners, in addition, to delivering high-quality services to veterans and their families is of the utmost importance. We are consistently overwhelmed by the amazing work being done by so many top-notch organizations throughout the state. Just like every organization, our resources are limited so we cannot support every program; however, where we cannot provide financial resources, we support networks for organizations to plug into creating the most efficient coordinated care for veterans.
Below is a little bit about the many organizations we awarded grants to this fall. This is not an exhaustive list of our grantees but rather a snapshot of the larger initiatives we are supporting.
Supporting employment and educational pathways for veterans through: educational advancement, workforce development, entrepreneurship, financial stability, and building cultural competencies will ease under-employment and unemployment, strengthen benefits and services and increase the value of veterans and their families as assets to their local communities.
Bunker Labs builds local, thriving, and connected networks to offer resources, education, introductions, and support to emerging veteran entrepreneurs. Bunker Labs engages successful entrepreneurs and community leaders to serve as mentors and connect veterans with one another by providing a physical location (in 1871) for programs, office space, and networking.
The McCormick grant to Bunker Labs will support a Community Outreach and Support Manager position, to grown the community of military veteran entrepreneurs that the Bunker serves in Chicagoland. This role will ensure that the Bunker’s community and resources are accessible to military veterans and families from diverse communities, especially those living on the south and west sides of Chicago, and those who may need accommodations for disabilities or other barriers to access.
National Able provides direct employment services to some of the hardest to serve veterans, including chronically unemployed and homeless, by providing job training workshops, technology training, coaching, and supportive placements.
The grant from McCormick supports general operating expenses and will help the Veterans Forward team to develop a strategic plan to integrate veteran services within the workforce system by collaborating more closely with the American Job Center (AJC) where all government agencies refer new veterans returning to Illinois.
The Chicago Lighthouse
The Veterans Employment Empowerment Project
The Veterans Employment Empowerment Project was initiated in 2014 with an initial investment from the McCormick Foundation. The project provides transitional and/or temporary employment with added employment supports and case management to aid veteran in permanent placement. Most employment that they provide is in one of their call centers that has the contract for the Illinois Department of Transpiration and several healthcare companies.
The McCormick grant will continue to enhance their services to veterans, in addition, to helping them create an internship program for 30-40 veterans which will serve as a pipeline into their employment opportunities and/or assisting veterans into other employment opportunities.
Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL)
Veterans Higher Education Affinity Group (VHEAG) and Commercial Club Veterans Working Group (VWG)
CAEL’s work is designed to help veterans and service members gain applicable credentials for meaningful civilian careers. They work with various sectors within education, business, community and government to promote collective impact.
The McCormick grant will continue to support these collaborations. The VHEAG continues to be the region’s best-positioned and most effective primary source for professional development in working with student veterans. The Commercial Club VWG is a diverse “community of knowledge,” working to address the most important issues facing Chicagoland veterans. This employer community come together to shares lessons and successes, enhances partnerships and collaboration, and provides guidance on best practices to strengthen the veteran employment landscape. The VWG ensures that the critical employer perspective is represented, and that employers are active engaged in supporting veterans.
Behavioral Health and Wellness
Supporting direct services (clinical, psychological and health and well-being) and related systems will increase veterans’ and their families overall physical and mental health, life satisfaction, and connectedness to community.
Team Red, White and Blue (Team RWB)
Illinois chapters and administration
Recognizing that a critical piece in the transition from service member to veteran is the ability to connect with the community, Team RWB’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veteran by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.
Team RWB has been operating five chapters in Illinois located in Chicago, Joliet, Marion, Peoria, and, Springfield. The McCormick grant will support each chapter’s operations and allow for broader outreach strategies to enhance membership.
This program is built on a mentoring concept, bringing combat veterans and youth who have experienced trauma together to share common life experiences, primarily surviving in hostile environments and striving to cope adaptively. It’s trauma-informed approach fosters a unique supportive relationship between military combat veterans and youth.
The program was originally piloted in 2015. The McCormick grant will allow the YMCA to provide essential outreach to coordinate veteran recruitment and training, and refer veterans to external services when necessary. Being a youth-serving organization, they have not had the capacity to do this and have recognized that these supports will further strengthen the program.
The Mission Continues
Through volunteerism in fellowships and service projects (called service platoons) veterans gain new skills and connections that help them achieve personal and professional success. Likewise, communities see long-term positive effects from having a hard working, highly trained veteran volunteer forces to help tackle their toughest challenges over a period of years.
As The Mission Continues has grown and evolved they have added third pillar of community impact. McCormick funding will enable them to add a service platoon (to the existing three platoons – each platoon consists of 15-20 veterans) and tap into our knowledge about community initiatives to identify where platoons and Fellows can best contribute to community impact and assisting communities in creating healthy, sustainable communities with empowered community partners.
Supporting pathways to coordinated outcome-based programs will provide transitioning service members, veterans and military families ease of access to supportive services.
Illinois Joining Forces was established in 2012 by the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) and the Illinois Department of Military Affairs (IDMA), is a statewide, public-private network of veteran- and military-serving organizations working together to improve services to Illinois’ military and veteran communities. IJF’s initial mission was to map the plethora of resources and services available to veterans and their families. IJF’s goal is to increase awareness and connectivity among its member organizations so that they and those we serve, can better navigate the system of support.
McCormick’s continued support provides general operating expenses. Coordinated, community-based collective impact is currently viewed as the best practice for effectively delivering services to veterans and military families. Through strategic partnerships with federal, state, county, and city veteran agencies, military bases, non-profit and private service providers, and philanthropy, IJF is positioned to be the backbone organization for coordinating veteran services in Illinois.
DePaul's Egan Office for Urban Education and Community Partnerships (UECP)
Multi-faith Veterans Initiative
The five-year Multi-faith Veterans Support Project, renamed the Multi-faith Veterans Initiative (MVI) was initiated by a planning grant from McCormick Foundation in May 2014. MVI has collaborated with faith-based organizations on the west, mid-south, far south, and north sides of Chicago and connected 185 non-repeat veterans to health, employment, housing, and VA services. The MVI is sustained with the support of DePaul’s Egan Office for Urban Education and Community Partnerships (UECP). By galvanizing faith-based organizations around veterans’ services, MVI is filling the gap that exists between the VA and veterans in creating access to service alternatives and link veterans to opportunities to engage with their communities.
Capacity Building and Technical Assistance
Supporting capacity building and technical needs of institutions serving veterans will strengthen their ability to deliver higher quality, integrated services to veterans within Illinois.
The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine
The Veterans Metrics Initiative
This is an innovative public-private research collaboration that will produce evidence-based data and outcome metrics relating to veteran transition services. The rationale of the study is to develop evidence-based methods to assess what works to improve veteran’s long-term outcomes. This 5-year longitudinal study is being conducted by The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine. We supported the first two years of the study in partnership with 12 other funders. McCormick has committed to supporting this study for another three years.