Asheville, NC January 21-24
A storm was coming. Winter storm Jonas, and a scathing report from CBS news criticizing Wounded Warrior Project. Friday afternoon after checking in to the SouthEast Female Warrior Summit hosted by “dub-dub p” as we say here in Jacksonville–where I live (St Augustine north to be precise) and the headquarters of WWP–my main concern was to get my run in before the snow came. I’ve always wanted to visit Asheville. What writer doesn’t?
I wasn’t sure how I was chosen for the summit, but my plan was to keep my mouth shut the entire weekend, to try and enjoy myself, to network, and remain positive, and all of the other happy horse manure I tell myself in order not to be kicked out of the conference (this almost happened with another veteran’s organization last year) for expressing my opinions concerning the organization who was graciously hosting me for the weekend.
As a warrior who has been openly critical of WWP in the past, I was sure I was on the infamous “No-Fly List” at headquarters. The mythical blacklist that that bars alumni who have anything “bad” to say about WWP from participating in their programs.
After being an alumna for the past three years, I can confidently say that NO such list exists. I have gotten into some programs. I have been denied for other programs. I had been on the waitlist for the program which I was participating in this weekend. Another woman had to decline because of illness, and I was next up. This happens all the time at WWP. And this is precisely why we need WWP.
Is the “dub dub p” perfect? No. Any charitable organization of this size and scope is: complicated, and messy, and great, and bad, and inefficient, and has growing pains, an can be exclusionary, and is awesome, and rocks it! The summit was perfect! and needed and empowering and… and … I digress, by now you’ve read “THE FACTS” from both sides. CBS and the NYT has its “facts.” WWP has its “facts.” And the whole interweb is aflutter with individual personal opinions which are either: a healthy gulp of Haterade, or a heaping plateful of praise for WWP.
I’m always hungry, so I decided there is room in the blogosphere for a more “ambivalent” response. There are things I love, about WWP. But like any love affair, it’s complicated. For example: I’ve had a tough time lobbying for more women veteran programs. There are programs, that I could live without- I just personally hate hunting and fishing. I also read about the suing of other charities and branding, and other things I find distasteful.
I can state as a fact from a very personal “boots on the ground” perspective: that WWP has lobbied for post 9/11 veterans relentlessly to a congress that has been ineffectual in promoting real change in the VA.
WWP has granted millions to other veterans organizations that I belong to: The Mission Continues and Team RWB. And is piloting a mental health program that is going to save thousands of lives.
Personally, WWP is one of the programs that has helped me heal. And I try to pay it forward to every veteran and civilian I encounter. So, to let you in on my “FACTS”
Without WWP I would be dead. Why? because I’m suicidal. Details later, for the purpose of this essay, just take it as my personal truth.
WWP got me out of my house, and into the gym and running again, through their Physical Health and Wellness program.
I belong to TeamRWB which brings the veteran and civilian world together through fitness. You want to run, walk, OCR, cross fit, triathlon, yogi? Talk to me, because I do all of that. Join a chapter! There are more things that I personally don’t do, but a chapter near you does.
WWP also introduced me to The Mission Continues which is also a joint veteran and civilian endeavor that seeks to change the conversation about my generation of veterans by providing fellowships to veterans with other non-profits so that veterans can continue to serve. I served more than 1000 community service hours last year. The largest chunk of my time was with The Women’s Center of Jacksonville as a Rape Crisis Advocate. And guess what? We have service platoons nationwide so veterans and civilians can come together to make a positive change in our communities.
Can WWP do a better job at servicing veterans? Yes, and guess what I got to do this weekend? Remember 600 words ago when I said I was going to keep my big mouth shut? I was encouraged to speak on all of it. And I did.
Besides all of the fabulous fun depicted in the pictures. I worked really hard at lobbying for more programs, and I was given a safe space to voice my concerns, and what, what, what??? I got to super-size my criticize! I was allowed to give voice to all of the things the critics are saying without repercussion . WWP is looking to improve. However, the “dub- dup p” can’t do that without me, or without you, asking the hard questions of everyone involved. So, this is your invitation.
If you’re a wounded warrior, engage.
If you’re a civilian, find more than one veteran to talk to about these issues, and get involved.