When military veterans and their families need assistance, it can often be difficult for them to find the help they need when they need it. Illinois Joining Forces (IJF) was established in 2012 to assist these individuals in navigating the “sea of goodwill” supporting service members, veterans, and their families (SMVF). IJF brings together public, private and government stakeholders in collaboration to better provide complete, holistic support to the SMVF community. Their goal is to make Illinois a state where veterans and their families can thrive by promoting growth, wellness and community.
“These individuals made a commitment to serve our nation around the globe,” says Brigadier General (Ret) Stephen Curda, IJF Executive Director, “Now it is our commitment state-wide to see that they are taken care of back here at home.”
In the Fall of 2017, IJF rolled out its Veteran Support Communities (VSC) initiative. The concept behind the VSCs is that services are always best delivered as close to home as possible. As Jim Dolan, IJF Senior Director of Development explains, IJF partners with those organizations on the ground already doing great work. “But one organization can only do so much,” continues Dolan. “We strive to foster collaboration among all the service providers in a region to provide all-around support to those in need.” IJF has identified 19 different regions – from Rockford and Lake County, to Marion and East St. Louis – as Veteran Support Communities. Each is unique and each is in varying stages of development, but the goal is to have active participants in each VSC in the next few years.
As IJF traveled throughout the state, one segment of the veteran population was identified as being under-represented and under-served – female veterans. To fill that gap, IJF developed the Women Veterans Ambassador program (WVAP), headed up by Abbie Holland-Schmit, a combat veteran herself. The women veteran ambassadors are linked to the local Veteran Support Community, and provide peer support and advocate for their fellow female veterans. “Women veterans have some unique challenges,” says Holland-Schmit. “And they often want to work through them with other women who have served.”
A key component to IJF’s success is their Coordination Center housed in Chicago’s Medical District. The coordination center is operated by two combat veterans who receive dozens of calls a day from veterans and their families looking for help. It’s there that IJF works with those individuals to identify what assistance they require and who would be best to fill that need. The center then connects them with the resources available in their local Veteran Support Community.
Another element of the SMVF community that often gets overlooked is the family members of veterans – most specifically care-givers and survivors of the fallen. IJF has made a deliberate effort to ensure these individuals receive the same level of respect and care in times of need.
If you would like to learn more about Illinois Joining Forces, or need some assistance, visit their website at http://illinoisjoiningforces.org, or call 833-INFO-IJF.