There is a special calling on the lives of those who choose to serve and protect our country through military service. And while patriotism and appreciation for their sacrifices are at an all-time high, there is still a very real price that is paid both physically and emotionally on both the service members and their loved ones.
Hope For The Warriors is an organization that was started by military families for military families. It has its roots in North Carolina at the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base. It was in 2006 when a small group of spouses began to truly grasp the trauma and aftermath that war leaves behind. Long after the troops have left the battlefield, there are other conflicts fought in the hearts, minds, and bodies of those brave men and women.
The family and loved ones of those service members often feel helpless to know how to care for and reach them. To bring peace and comfort in the knowledge that they are now safe. So many still do not find that peace.
The mission when Hope For The Warriors started was to enable the returning service members to find success after their deployment. This could mean a new career path, education, mental health services and even positive interaction with others who have walked where they walked.
Recently I had the opportunity to speak with two individuals who are actively involved in this outstanding program; Shelley Rodiguez and Sarah Dale.
Here is a brief overview of my conversations.
Shelley Rodriguez has been with Hope For The Warriors since 2012 and is currently the Program Director of Critical Care. She is a native of Texas and is married to Colonel Cesar Rodriquez, USMC.
Shelley told me how Hope For The Warriors was conceived as an idea by Marine Corp wives whose husbands were all connected in some way. They knew firsthand of the obstacles faced and wanted a way to help. Today the program’s reach has gone all across the US and encompasses all branches of the military.
Their services cover a wide range of needs. They provide financial assistance for those struggling to make ends meet. They pay rent, buy groceries and assist in getting homeless veterans off the streets. They can help with co-pays and other ways to ease the strain when money is tight.
They also provide mental health programs to combat PTSD and restore wellness and a sense of purpose for those feeling disconnected and lost. Depression and suicide is a huge issue within this group and there are programs that offer hope for those struggling.
There are also programs to help with substance abuse issues, which is a problem that plagues the veteran community. Their philosophy is to provide a hand up as opposed to hand out. They strive to provide the means so veterans and their families can move forward and live productive and happy lives.
There is career assistance for transitioning out of the military and into civilian life; enabling the service member to find satisfying employment to support themselves and their families. There are also educational opportunities for those needing additional skills.
According to Shelley, one of the biggest obstacles that a veteran may face is when there is an ‘other than honorable discharge’ status. This can result from a variety of issues but greatly affects the services they are eligible for. Hope For The Warriors works to amend this discharge status if at all possible to keep the lines of help open.
Another benefit of this organization is the sporting events and outdoor activities that so many of the veterans love to participate in. There are golfing events, fishing trips, hunting retreats, marathons and a host of other events that build friendships and foster a new sense of wellbeing and even fun.
With all the amazing benefits that Hope For The Warriors provide, I asked Shelley what was the biggest obstacle in their mission. Her response was simply getting the word out. Most all of the money raised goes directly into the outreach and very little is spent on advertisement. They rely heavily on word of mouth and referrals to spread their message.
They are also in need of volunteers. There are many ways someone can help by volunteering for this amazing organization. Information will be provided at the end of the article for those wishing to sign up.
I then had the privilege of speaking with Sarah Dale who is also a military spouse and has experienced firsthand the benefits of Hope For The Warriors.
Sarah’s husband John suffered from PTSD. At the time, they knew of no other couple who were experiencing this issue. They felt isolated and unable to wade through the mire and the fog that PTSD brings not only to the service members but their caregiver.
Sarah admits that she was an angry Army wife. She felt unprepared and unfulfilled. That’s when she turned to Hope For The Warriors. Through this organization, she qualified for a Caregiver Scholarship where she enrolled in graduate school for Fine Art.
Sarah had started her career in advertising in the DC area. She quickly determined this was not the right career path. She had a passion for the arts and started painting and then through the degree program began creating eco-friendly, recycled art that highlighted her struggles as a veteran caregiver. Her work depicted the internal battles that both she and her husband were dealing with and it also sparked interest from those who shared their struggles.
In her own words; "This piece is called Flowers for the VA. I decided to create something beautiful out of a really hard battle to get help from the VA so I took all their letters of rejection and confusing paperwork and made this sculpture."
She soon began to realize that they needed additional help. She turned back to Hope For The Warriors.
She signed up for a Caregiver Wellness Workshop. She was terrified as she went to her first meeting but quickly discovered however that she was not alone. It was an eye-opening moment to realize how many others experienced caregiver fatigue, and that there was an actual term for it! She learned there was no judgment or shame for being overwhelmed, confused and even sometimes hurt and angry.
She also discovered the term Secondary PTSD where loved ones, especially spouses, can take on the symptoms of their partners; like depression and anxiety. This happens when they stop caring for themselves and instead live for their traumatized partner.
She and John started on a journey of emotional recovery together. Individually their lives had been changed, but their marriage also had suffered. Often the impact on relationships and marriages is forgotten or minimized, but many do not survive after a service member returns home.
Sarah learned that in the midst of the pain and confusion, it was ok to laugh. It was even healthy! She began to practice self-care and took time to rejuvenate and refresh her own mind and spirit. She continued with her art practice at school, which was more like art therapy, but also branched out into another passion of hers; filmmaking and acting.
She said the biggest lesson she learned was that PTSD is a treatable condition. It is possible to overcome it and be free of the devastating effects. She states that now both she and her husband John are living abundant and happy lives.
She and John have recently founded a new online community called Brave Love, with a mission to help the brave and those who love them traverse the murky and unfamiliar waters of getting relationships back on track and thriving again.
They have a new online course entitled Brave Love Relationship Masterclass. It is scheduled to start on November 3rd. Registration can be done through their website; www.bravelove.tv.
Sarah credits Hope For The Warriors for helping them regain their emotional well-being both as individuals and as a family.
My friends, I am constantly on the lookout for people and organizations that align with my own goal to share My Hopeful Life stories. Hope For The Warriors was a perfect fit and I am thrilled to bring their dedication and inspiration to you. It is part of their ideals to meet the ever-changing needs of combat veterans and service members and those who love them. They truly understand the sacrifice that occurs on both sides.
For more information on their program and services, or to volunteer please visit their website;
If you know of any other individual or organization that would be a good fit to My Hopeful Life please reach out. I'd love to hear from you.
And as always.....
Hope With Abandon