The Vermont National Guard Charitable Foundation Has a Significant Influence
By Marisa Crumb
Very much a behind-the-scenes organization, the Vermont National Guard Charitable Foundation works quietly and unobtrusively around the state, but that doesn’t mean the work they do goes unnoticed. To countless Vermont military families, both in the reserves and in active duty, the impact the foundation has had and continues to have is tremendous. Paramount to the organization and the core of what makes them tick, is being there in very tangible, concrete ways as a means to support the enormous sacrifice the servicemen and women across the state make when they go into combat to defend our country. To grasp the profound effect, an understanding of what the foundation’s fundamental tenets are is key. Their website’s welcome page is clear and succinct: “The mission of the foundation is to provide emergency financial support to Vermont military members and their families, and to support activities and programs run by the Vermont National Guard that benefit the general public.” The support they bring to the families is palpable, and can make a significant difference in alleviating stress and in managing daily tasks and responsibilities.
Formed in 2005, the Vermont National Guard Charitable Foundation assists military members’ families with financial needs that can run the entire gamut of day-to-day living. For example, the grassroots organization helps with paying a mortgage if a month is particularly tight for a family, or contributing to a car repair, or providing heat or fuel assistance. This past winter, the foundation arranged for snow tires for a mother of seven children whose husband had been deployed and who lived in rural Vermont. Having snow tires enabled her to safely take her children where they needed to go and to take care of necessary errands, which assuaged the stress of not having the extra money for something essential.
In another case, explains Miriam Boyle, member of the Grants and Needs Committee, the foundation helped pay some of the medical bills incurred by a young boy when he had to travel to a Boston hospital for treatment. She goes on to say that this is only one such example and that the organization also assists with food, gas, house repairs (they recently helped with a new roof), “and everything in between.” Meeting these emergency needs are the hub of their work and their focus. In addition, the Vermont National Guard Charitable Foundation also reviews requests for grants, which are not required to be paid back, as the organization feels strongly that they don’t want the money to be yet another debt and another hardship. When a service member lost his job not long ago, the foundation was there helping with employment options.
The foundation’s reach in terms of types of assistance is quite broad and wide ranging, and yet Boyle adds that “it’s hard to get the word out. The organization does a lot and they don’t want attention drawn” to helping all of these military families in need. “We’re not in it for the accolades; we just want to take care of families in their time of need,” she emphasizes. The 501(c)(3) is run completely by volunteers, which is a testimony to the level of commitment and loyalty the staff dedicates to administering the various branches of financial support. Many recipients turn around and give a donation when they are on their feet again, and relay that they are “so blessed” by the assistance they received.
The stories of gratitude abound. One recipient writes: “Your generosity has enabled me to be able to focus at the temporary job I am working while continuing to look for a more permanent solution to my employment situation. Concentration isn’t easy when you are trying to figure out if you can cover the electric bill.” The Vermont National Guard Charitable Foundation thoughtfully and precisely acknowledges all that is involved when a spouse is deployed, and the resultant financial difficulties that places on the family. Recently, approximately 400 Airmen from Vermont were deployed. Offering quick financial assistance is a very real manifestation of paying tribute to both the families who saw a loved one off and also to the service members themselves. As the mission statement page of their website asserts, the foundation “recognizes the special sacrifices made by the members of our military and their families and the hardships of such service by meeting the financial need beyond that normally provided by state and federal agencies.” It goes on to state that they are “uniquely positioned to quickly provide emergency assistance to Vermont members of the military and their families. Since its inception, the Charitable Foundation has provided in excess of $500,000 in grants to meet these needs.”
And the appreciation is evident and heartfelt. A letter of thanks from a grantee relates that “Words cannot express how grateful I am to my unit, and the board members of the charitable foundation. Thank you, for your time and efforts made to assist me in my time of need. It is truly appreciated.” Yet another recipient conveys the same indebtedness: “Words cannot truly describe how thankful my family and I are. This HUGE act of kindness that you all have not only done for my family but, do every day for all soldiers is a true blessing…Our holiday season is definitely much better now and now we don’t have to worry about being evicted…I wish I could think of words to describe how truly thankful we are…you folks have no idea what you’ve done and how appreciative we are. MANY, MANY THANKS from my family and I. I look forward to the day when I can pay it forward in some way to someone. Thank you all!!!”
An incredible facet of the work the foundation does is the fact that there is no active fundraising. The private, nonprofit organization is totally manned by volunteers, and less than 1 percent of the budget goes to operating costs. It is completely funded by donations, from widows who felt so supported and wanted to give back to substantial donations from large companies. Members of the Vermont National Guard and reserves and their families who find themselves in emergency financial situations simply need to apply to the foundation, and their applications are reviewed and approved as quickly as possible.
Working in tandem with but separate from the Charitable Foundation, Survivor Outreach Services is a full-service organization for the Families of the Fallen whose mission is to “Build a unified program which embraces and reassures survivors that they are continually linked to the Army Family for as long as they desire.” This principle is further embraced by the “Army’s Commitment to Survivors: Never Forgotten…Never Alone.” Tammie Conner, the survivors outreach coordinator, upholds this as well, and says, “I’ll be there to support them.” Herself the wife of a soldier, Conner volunteers and many times works with the children of servicemen and women who have gotten older and now need to navigate education alternatives, such as how to pay for college, and the associated aspects of being on their own.
Sometimes Conner just listens. She is a valuable resource when a struggling family member of a soldier who was lost in combat needs someone to discuss the problems the survivor is having after the death of their loved one. “They need a safe place to cry,” Tammie simply explains. Survivor Outreach Services provides an environment that is conducive to working through the distress the surviving family members of the fallen soldiers experience and can include the spouse, parents, children, siblings, and grandparents. To be understood and not feel alone is a beautiful result for which the families are thankful. Some of the services they carry out are help with financial issues, military medical benefits, legal issues, maintaining a list of available resources, and acquiring benefits and services from local military establishments.
And as the outreach coordinator for the Charitable Foundation, Conner is also a liaison for the Vermont National Guard Charitable Foundation subcommittee, Vermont National Guard Fallen Heroes Memorial Committee. Conner promotes, enhances, and advocates for the activities and events that support the families whose loved ones have died in the line of duty. Events and activities have included a Ride to Remember, golf tournaments, an Honor and Remember Ceremony, and a bus trip to Boston to watch the Red Sox play. As with the Vermont National Guard Charitable Foundation, the Vermont National Guard Fallen Heroes Committee receives no federal money; the program was formed by the Community Partners and operates on donations.
Being there for each other and the ability to make families’ lives brighter and a bit less difficult strengthens our sense of community and brings us all a little more well-being and peace.