Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Have faith. Do what you love. Find your passion.

I tell people often that I was "knocked up by a non-profit." AWV's first founding meeting was in December of 2008. On that cold morning in New York City, a group of mostly strangers got together at Popover Cafe, brought together by a Facebook invite. My sister and I expected no one to show up, but as the brunch wore on, we knew that something BIG was coming. In August of 2009, nine months later, American Women Veterans Foundation was incorporated into a LLC, Shortly thereafter, it was granted tax-exempt status from the IRS.

Now, it's in its terrible twos.

For the last two years + nine months, it has kept me up at all hours. I've been told this is normal. It has drained my personal finances. I've borrowed money from family. I've maxed credit cards and I've taken loans on my TSP and 401k. I will soon be selling personal items on eBay. I have lost touch with friends (some willingly left and some I've (un)intentionally drifted from.) I can't keep a relationship for longer than a few weeks. And well, you get the picture but don't worry, I'm told all of that is normal, too!

It's as if I've left the fun and carefree "normal" life and joined the ranks of the "parents with non-profits." We're an anti-social bunch - often too busy or too leery of each others' intentions and territories to make best buddies of each other. Ever wonder what the word "frenemy" means? Start a veterans non-profit in DC. But again, that story is several more blog posts...

The goal for AWV, beyond what needs to be written on paper, is that it survives me. That it continues to be a viable organization that thrives and flourishes, encouraging women to advance in the services and within their communities post-service. It will continue to be a force for positive change - a legacy that each generation of servicewoman and veteran leaves for the next.

My selfish hope, is that everyone will forgive me my naivety, ignorance and lack of extensive formal education. I truly hope that my passion, drive and vision for this organization are enough to help it become all that it needs to and will be. I hope that by combining my commitment and willingness to learn, I can demonstrate ability and potential.

I am constantly humbled by the challenges and by how much I have yet to learn and do. I never dreamed I'd be doing something like this. I don't know what will happen in the years to come - or what AWV will look like as it "grows up" but just as any parent would hope for their child, I hope it will one day flourish on its own and offer women veterans an opportunity to continue to be a part of something bigger than themselves - long after they are issued their DD214s and have stowed away their military service medals.

American Women Veterans has grown to include over 15,000 servicewomen, women veterans and supporters. We've testified on Capitol Hill, pushed for the establishment of gender-specific services and facilities for women veterans at VA hospitals, worked with the Department of Veterans Affairs and continuously meet and team with members of Congress on policies affecting service women and women veterans.

We've also provided references and consultation to all of the major media outlets and shows such as The Oprah Winfrey Show and Dr. OZ, as well as international media in Japan, Korea, Germany and the UK. Just recently, our members worked virtually with TEAM AWV to assist ABC's Extreme Makeovers: Home Edition on a home for Barbara Marshall and her non-profit organization, The Steps N Stages Jubilee House in North Carolina. Our project, the key design element of the show, will be revealed when the show airs in October.

And this is just the beginning.

As I write this, TEAM AWV is drafting up program proposals that are going to positively impact servicewomen, women veterans and their children for decades to come. We know that when a woman vet is empowered - she will empower others. These proactive programs, once funded and implemented, will significantly lower the rate of unemployment, homelessness and sexual assault cases projected and predicted by the people who make projections and predictions. :)

Before 2008, no organization that focused on these issues and had this much outreach, existed.


Many years ago, I asked James Earl Jones, Bruce Willis, Larry King and several other notable and famous people at the American Academy of Achievements event in Sun Valley, Idaho, what it was like to know that you are on the right path to your own destiny. How do you know what you are "meant to be?" The answers I heard over and over again (in summary)?

Have faith. Do what you love. Find your passion.

I don't know if we'll succeed at the pace we need to, but I have faith. I'm doing something I love and believe in. And I don't think anyone would argue with me if I said that I've found my passion.

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