Vets’ Community Connections officially launches

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – Thursday – After a year-long development effort to bring more Americans into the community reintegration process for veterans and their families, San Diego County public and private sector community leaders formally launched Vets’ Community Connections (VCC) Thursday.

Elected officials joined private sector and local veteran and military leaders at the 10 a.m. event at the new headquarters of 2-1-1 San Diego – which has played a key role in the design and development of the initiative and where VCC will be based.

Vets’ Community Connections provides individuals who want to do more than say “thanks for your service” the channel to use their own professional experience and expertise to respond to veteran and military family relocation and reintegration questions in a wide variety of fields: education, health, business, recreation, arts, community service and a host of other areas which collectively make up the communities in which we live. Participants do so based on their own scheduling and time limitations. San Diegans are encouraged to sign up as volunteers through the VCC website.

The processes in each community can differ but are based on common core principles: Veterans, active duty, and spouses call a central number (in San Diego, 2-1-1 or 1-844-VET CONX) to be linked with a “Vet Connector”: a trained call respondent who will listen to the caller’s question and then connect him or her with an appropriate community member via email or phone. Community participants agree to answer a call or an email from a veteran, active duty service member or spouse when their expertise matches a caller’s need.

“Our local veterans and their families aren’t looking for more websites – they’re looking for personal connections to their fellow citizens and businesses who can provide them with community-relevant answers to their questions and information they can trust. Each and every one of us can do that,” said Jerry Sanders, president of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, which has taken a leadership role in the local development of the reintegration initiative. Sanders and the Chamber spearheaded a groundbreaking survey of area veterans and family members that showed that those in transition to civilian life valued human connection and new networks into the community far more than additional Internet resources.

San Diego County was chosen as one of three pilot communities for the initiative, which is supported and co-sponsored nationally by the National Association of Counties (NACo) and the Wounded Warrior Project. Other pilots are St. Joseph’s County (South Bend), Indiana and Maricopa County (Phoenix), Arizona. VCC was co-founded in 2014 by former senior Pentagon spokesman Doug Wilson and organizational management specialist Kari McDonough. Both will participate in the February 25 press conference.

More than four dozen public and private sector leaders and organization representatives have worked to develop the infrastructure and initial support for Vets’ Community Connections, under the overall leadership of 2-1-1 San Diego. Trained Vet Connector(s) will use Salesforce-supported database of community volunteers built upon 2-1-1’s infrastructure.

“2-1-1 San Diego has been a strong supporter of our veterans, military and their families; providing connections to community and health services, resources and information with community partners for more than five years. VCC is a natural fit for us and compliments the work already being done in our region, while also offering many more San Diegans a chance to be part of community reintegration efforts,” says Bill York, executive vice president of 2-1-1 San Diego. “2-1-1 is constantly working on better ways to connect people to services and build stronger community collaborations with partners. We are proud to work with the Chamber, the Veterans Coalition, the County, and the 50 supporting agencies, organizations and companies represented on the VCC advisory board to bring Vets’ Community Connections to fruition in our region,” added John Ohanian, president & CEO of 2-1-1 San Diego.

The San Diego Veterans Coalition has also played a key support role in the creation of the San Diego pilot program. “What service members are looking for following transition is no different from what others want: A career that utilizes their skills. A plan to go back to school to pursue a certain career track. Information to ensure their kids can thrive in school and activities. A way to connect with a community that can answer questions we may have, and a means of being engaged in the community, whether through volunteerism or recreation,” said Marine veteran Bob Muth, who heads the Coalition.

County Health and Services Agency Director Nick Macchione, a major force behind the county’s “Live Well” movement in San Diego, played an instrumental role in securing pilot designation for the County. “Because of the number of programs already available to San Diego veterans, the co-founders were initially reluctant to include San Diego for pilot community selection. We convinced them that precisely because our community provides such strong support for veterans, Vets’ Community Connections would be a perfect addition and fill a void that has existed here despite the many other programs available. It provides meaningful participation for so many citizens who want to give back to our men and women in uniform but don’t know how to do so.”

Several county elected officials have expressed strong support for VCC. “San Diego has always been very supportive of our men and women in the military and this is a great way for the community to support returning veterans and their families with the help and services they need to transition back into society,” said Supervisor Greg Cox.

Financial, in-kind and other contributions to VCC initiatives are community-based. The San Diego initiative has been built to date on community donations of time and talent, supplemented by a VISTA/Americorps volunteer award and in-kind data base technology donated by SalesForce Foundation. San Diego’s VCC Advisory Board will coordinate long-term development efforts.

In addition to San Diego County, the South Bend/St Joseph County (Indiana) pilot program will go live to veteran callers in March. Both are in the process of reaching out to community members to sign up as volunteers through the website www.vetscommunityconnections.org. The Phoenix/Maricopa pilot program will follow later this year. With the support of the National Association of Counties and the Wounded Warrior Project, Vets’ Community Connections is now beginning the process of partnering with national organizations to expand the initiative nationwide and apply the pilot community templates to communities large and small throughout the United States.

2/10/16 – “211 San Diego,” the phone and email connection for people in need of community and health resources, has a new home.

Still working on the finishing touches, but 211’s new headquarters in Kearny Mesa is operational on Thursday.

The organization, founded in 2005, came of age during the 2007 wildfires.

In its first two headquarters, the agency had to fit the building, and anyone who covered the wildfires can tell you the conditions were far from ideal.

Now, everything has been designed to fit 211’s needs in serving the needs of county residents in times of emergency, large and small.