BFL Summer 2018 Update
As we head into the second half of Summer, we've got tons that we want to share with our Backpacks For Life community! We've had a busy summer, filled with lots of great events and special moments helping veterans in need. We always like to share updates with our community to continue spreading awareness about the needs of our veterans and also to thank our wonderful supporters. It is your contributions that help us have an impact on the lives of many veterans in need. Continue reading to check out what we've been up to the past couple months....
May was one of the busiest months for the BFL Team! Coming off a successful Golf Outing in April, we stacked our schedule with tons of meetings, networking with other veteran organizations, backpack development and backpack distributions. We have recently become acquainted with the amazing nonprofit, Bunker Labs, which was built by veterans, to help veteran entrepreneurs build and succeed in their own businesses. We attended two of their events in NYC and one in Chicago where we were able to connect with other veteran business owners and network amongst some of the most successful veteran businesses like Black Rifle Coffee and Backward Flag Brewing. Stay tuned for a fun project we have coming in the Fall with Backward Flag Brewing Company...one hint: it involves beer!
If you've followed our journey from our Golf Outing, you already know that we met a special young man named Tyler who is serving veterans in the Baltimore area of Maryland. We drove down to visit him and donated 300 backpacks to his cause. Being the generous, kind hearted kid that he is, Tyler chose to donate half of those backpacks directly to MCVET (Maryland Center for Veteran Education and Training) for their June Stand Down Event.
We finished off the month at Techtextil, a textile expo event in Atlanta, Georgia, where we were seeking out Made In USA suppliers and vendors to help us build our backpack. We've been designing a backpack for over a year and finally have sampled what will be the first ever backpack, exclusively designed with a homeless veteran in mind. This is our next big project for the year and we can't wait to continue sharing updates with you!
We attended another Stand Down event in June, located in Sparta, NJ. We served a smaller veteran population at this event but nonetheless, it was an opportunity to thank a new community of veterans for their service and put a smile on their faces by giving them a backpack filled with great essentials. Following our trip to Atlanta, we spent much of June strategizing how we can build our veteran backpack with as many components and materials that are Made In USA. With this, we also realized that in order to take this project to the next level we had to dive into the world of grant writing. It is no easy task but we were eager to take on the challenge. With a solid project timeline in place and a product that we know can change the lives of so many veterans, we mailed out over 15 grant applications to various organizations, foundations and companies that support the military, veterans and homelessness. In just a few days, we secured our first grant! Being a nonprofit and attempting to launch a product is extremely challenging but we are confident that the community we are serving and the product that we have developed are worth every ounce of what we've got! This backpack will aid in daily relief for our veterans and ultimately help us continue to spread awareness about veteran homelessness.
This month has been nothing short of busy and rewarding at the same time. The 9th Annual Anthony Fasano Bocce Bash was held in Verona Park, Verona, NJ. We are lucky to call former NFL Player Anthony Fasano a family friend and he has selected Backpacks For Life as the recipient of donations at his Bocce Bash Fundraiser each year. This year, we were lucky to be interviewed by News 12 who highlighted the event and shared our story with the community. You can check out the coverage of the event here.
We attended our final Stand Down event for the season in Upstate New York. We handed out over 100 backpacks to veterans in and around the Rensselaer area. Distributing backpacks is the foundation of what our organization does. There is nothing more rewarding than the look on a veterans face when they approach the Backpacks For Life table and we tell them what is inside each backpack. It gets even better when you tell that veteran that they get to take one of those backpacks with them.
With our final Stand Down event completed for the season, we anticipated a few weeks of quiet time for us to continue scheduling our year-round donation drives and working on securing materials for our veteran backpack...but boy were we wrong! It seems that in these quiet times is when our work is needed most. Aside from backpack distribution, many of you know that we aid at risk and low income veterans in peer-to-peer mentorship. Just 2 days ago, we received an email from a veteran who was in an emergency situation: carless, jobless and homeless; having spent 3 months in a motel by support of other organizations but was now on his last night of payment to his motel room and no where to go the following day.
As we do when we receive these emergency notifications, we jump into action mode. We spent some time speaking with this veteran to fully understand his situation - his time in the military, possible disability or substance abuse issues, current living situation, job history and housing attempts. It is a dynamic situation to be in when you are a homeless veteran, going through many of the programs put in place at the county and state level and to somehow still be unable to receive proper care. At Backpacks For Life, we take this as a moment to step in and support our veterans with our vast network of resources. We don't put a band-aid on the wounds of veterans, instead we work to heal them. The challenge with this veteran was not just one thing, but a combination of many things that snowballed over time. We immediately reached out to all our connections and in 24 hours we were able to make great improvements for this veteran. We had a group of volunteers dropping off food to this veteran and his fiancé who hadn't eat in two days. We worked with a landlord who was able to find an apartment that would be available in one week and we arranged for a housing coordinator to bring the veteran to look at the apartment. We ensured that this veteran's VA provided housing vouchers would be accepted and we connected with My Brother Vinny, a NY based nonprofit, to ensure we could furnish this veterans apartment once he moves in. While we wait for this apartment to become available, we are supporting this veteran's stay at the motel. We are in constant contact with the veteran and we will be visiting him tomorrow to check in and make sure he is prepared to get himself to a better place. While these situations frustrate us with the lack of care and unwillingness from other organizations, we step up and get the job done.
Our peer-to-peer mentorship takes many different paths and the next story we're sharing is an inspiring one to say the least! Our founder, Brett, met Mark, an Army veteran, at a Healing Waters fishing event. Healing Waters is a fly fishing club for disabled veterans that our founder Brett is a member of. Brett and Mark became quick friends and it wasn't long before Mark was sharing the story of him and his wife's plan to start a nonprofit. Mark and his wife, Amy, a Marine veteran, have experienced and endured what many veterans experience after the war - the inexplicable challenges of coming home, PTSD, anxiety, depression and much more. We know this story very well as we lived it ourselves. It was an instant connection with Mark and Amy who have overcome many of their personal struggles through healing horses and equine therapy. We have written about the many benefits of equine therapy for veterans before and there wasn't even a question when Mark and Amy asked us for advice and guidance on starting their nonprofit! You can instantly tell when someone has a genuine passion for healing others - horses and veterans - and Mark and Amy are doing just that. With two horses expected to arrive in September, The Unbridled Heroes Project, will launch on a farm in Allendale, New Jersey. Mark and Amy will be gentling and training wild horses while incorporating programs to aid in healing our veterans. The Unbridled Heroes Project will be advocating for horses, the lack of laws in place that protect these animals and much more. Mark and Amy have been able to reclaim their lives from the hidden wounds of war through working with horses. We couldn't be more honored to support two veterans, not only looking to get an amazing nonprofit off the ground, but also heal our veterans in the process. Check out The Unbridled Heroes Project facebook page where you can donate to the organization and learn more about their story.
Backpacks For Life is entering an exciting chapter. As the organization continues to evolve and grow, we will always remain true to the foundation of what we do...SERVING OUR VETERANS!