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Two national organizations work to meet local mental health needs


Mending Minds

Two national organizations work to meet local mental health needs

In 2005 Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, a psychologist in Washington, DC, realized that the mental health needs of our nation’s service members and their families were growing exponentially and there simply were not enough providers in the military system to meet the needs. She had an idea: Mobilize mental health providers from the civilian sector to help the military community. Her organization, called Give an Hour, was born.

Providers who volunteer with Give an Hour agree to give one hour of their time each week to provide free counseling and other mental health services to military members, veterans and military family members. The providers assist these clients with needs related to the psychological effects of deployment, combat and reintegration into society after serving their country in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the group was founded seven years ago, more than 5,600 volunteers have donated nearly 37,000 hours.

“In our community, the Give an Hour organization came to be in January 2011 with an estimate of 80 individuals, and a core working group of around 20 people,” Nancy St. Claire, the chief operating officer for Give an Hour, said of Fayetteville.

A Blueprint for Helping

Later, in June 2011, Bristol-Myers Squibb approached Give an Hour to offer $2 million to implement the Community Blueprint Network, a nationwide initiative, in the two pilot sites, Fayetteville and the Norfolk, Va. area.

The Community Blueprint Network, which now oversees Give an Hour’s efforts, developed to help local community leaders assess and improve their community’s support for veterans, service members and their families. By better synchronizing and coordinating services between government, nonprofits and other stakeholders, the Community Blueprint improves services across eight areas: behavioral health, education, employment, family strength, financial/legal problems, homelessness, reintegration and volunteerism. More than 60 organizations contributed to its development, including the American Red Cross, Points of Light Foundation and the National Military Family Association. Fayetteville is one of sixteen communities nationwide to have a Community Blueprint in our city, but only Fayetteville and Norfolk currently have the pilot project.

The Community Blueprint’s mission statement is anchored around the dreadful fact that 47,712 service members have been injured during the past 10 years at war. Moreover, approximately 6,400 service members have given their lives during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation New Dawn.

In addition to the physical injuries sustained, an unknown number of service members have experienced psychological symptoms directly related to their deployments. According to a RAND report, nearly 300,000 troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have symptoms of post-traumatic stress or major depression. At the same time, about 19 percent of service members reported that they experienced a possible traumatic brain injury. Spouses, children, parents, siblings, and unmarried partners of military personnel are also being adversely affected by the stress and strain of the current military campaign and in need of help.

In June of this year the Department of Defense released data showing that the rate of suicide among service members will likely climb higher than the rate of combat deaths. On average, one service member kills himself or herself every day.

Between 2008 and 2011 the Give an Hour provider network grew over 400 percent, boasting over 6,000 mental health professionals. Every dollar spent supporting Give an Hour has been leveraged to provide over 6 times as much in direct support to our military and their families.

During a time when Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has rocked our nation’s military, combined with a shortage of mental health providers, Give an Hour’s Van Dahlen was named as Time Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012 for her endeavors.

The organization also won the White House Joining Forces Challenge and Van Dahlen and St. Claire received the award at the White House in a reception with the First Lady Michelle Obama and the Second Lady, Dr. Jill Biden.

Give an Hour was also recently recognized and has been chosen to participate in Hollywood’s Got Your 6 Campaign as the lead activator for health regarding returning veterans and their loved ones.

Meeting Fayetteville’s Needs

More information and more networking is a benefit for all, said Joanne Chavonne, a volunteer since the inception of the program. “We are anticipating with the drawdown, and with those separating from the military before retirement, the soldier continues to have support with VA benefits, but the family doesn’t,” Chavonne said, emphasizing the need for more family mental health support programs.

On May 11, the Community Blueprint and the Office of U.S. Senator Kay Hagan co-sponsored an event at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum to honor military spouses for Military Spouse Appreciation Day. The Blueprint offered a Certificate of Appreciation to three exemplary military spouses and a collective certificate for the Command Staff Spouses at Fort Bragg. (CityView Senior Editor Rebekah Sanderlin was among those honored.)

On June 7, Give an Hour sponsored a Community Blueprint – Walmart Foundation press event to highlight eight local recipients of the Blueprint-Walmart Foundation grants. The Walmart Foundation provided a total of 16 grants (eight per pilot site) totaling $155,000 towards collaborative community projects and initiatives which support service members and their families.

Also on June 7, Give an Hour held a media and community event highlighting their efforts through pampering hundreds of local military spouses with different educational stations.

The Community Blueprint has also led numerous efforts in our community to assist military families and received national recognition for those efforts. During last year’s Dogwood Festival the organization provided supplies for youth to make Military Memory Bracelets for their heroes and to share a bit about them. The project and photos were featured in an online blog for the May issue of Seventeen magazine.

To further their cause, the Community Blueprint is hosting a screening at the Cameo Theater on July 10 for the Oscar-nominated film “Hell and Back Again”, a documentary about a Marine named Nathan Harris who deployed to Afghanistan. The footage includes day-to-day missions, an incident where he was shot through the hip and his reintegration back into our society, which includes his young wife’s role as his caretaker. Nathan currently lives outside of Camp Lejeune, N.C. He is expected to attend the Fayetteville screening, as is Van Dahlen. The two will speak afterwards as part of a panel discussion about what service members and their families are enduring.

The Community Blueprint offers a practical solution to join together existing programs, organizations, and community members to meet the local needs of service members and their families. Lessons learned and activities created in Fayetteville will serve as national models which can be shared and replicated across the United States. Nearly 11 years of sustained combat has impacted the nation, and this community in particular, in multiple ways. The Community Blueprint offers a grass-roots, community-based solution to support and empower service members and their families.

Anyone interested in joining the Blueprint is welcome to join a meeting. Community members and local leaders in Fayetteville comprise a core group of Blueprint members from Veteran Service Organizations, nonprofit, business, faith-based and (state, local and federal) government sector.  Fayetteville Blueprint meetings are held every third Friday of the month from 11:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. in the Partnership for Children’s Charles Morris Conference Room. Lunch is served, and an RSVP is required. For more information, contact Siobhan Norris at: snorris@giveanhour.org. You can learn more about Give an Hour and the Blueprint at www.giveanhour.org.