“Our Lodge wants to help, but we can’t find any veterans in need.” Sound familiar? Our office fields this question from time to time, particularly in areas without a VA facility nearby. Here’s how to get started.
First, the VA operates thousands of facilities, and not all are hospitals. They run housing facilities for formerly homeless veterans, offsite clinics, benefits offices, and Vets Centers. Many of these facilities, especially Vets Centers, are located away from traditional VA campuses. Contact the staff at these facilities, and ask how the Elks can help.
Additionally, the VA has dozens of outreach programs in each facility, from adaptive sports programs to skills-based classes to financial counseling and more. Keep an open mind, and research where the needs are, even if it means leaving your comfort zone and changing what your Lodge has done in the past.
Then, search online for veterans organizations in your area. There are more than 45,000 veterans nonprofits registered in the United States. There may be some just around the corner that you don’t know about.
You can also search for city, county, regional or state veterans offices and let them know the Elks are there to serve veterans in need. Check for veterans meetings and gatherings on community calendars, and ask if you can stop by to say a few words about the Elks support for veterans.
Many large nonprofits, like the Salvation Army, Volunteers of America and even the YMCA have programs specifically for veterans, military members and their families. Reach out to these groups and see how your Lodge can work together with them.
Don’t forget about more traditional outreach organizations, like Disabled American Veterans, Vietnam Veterans of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and AMVETS, to name just a few.
Be aware that younger veterans are less likely to be a part of traditional veterans groups, and may be harder to connect with. Groups like the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, The Mission Continues and Team Rubicon rally younger veterans to meet in their communities for service activities and social gatherings. Check their websites to find the local contact in your area. You may also want to reach out to student veterans near you. If there is a community college or university near you, they may have a student veterans group or staff member responsible for veterans outreach.
Finally, work with what you have. Because of privacy laws, many organizations may not be able to share names. They can, however, share needs or ideas. And once your Lodge has built up some trust, they may be more willing to connect you with veterans directly.