Through Funders Together, we have learned a great deal about the vast needs facing veterans in Houston. Much to our surprise, Houston has the second largest returning-veteran population and there is great need for private philanthropic support, coordination of services, and collaboration among local agencies.
The Simmons Foundation has been a member of the local chapter of Funders Together to End Homelessness (FTEH) for two years. Our FTEH group has spent a tremendous amount of time educating funders about the myriad of issues surrounding homeless individuals and families. Before joining, we knew little about the veteran population locally. However, through FTEH, we have learned a great deal about the vast needs facing veterans in Houston. Much to our surprise, we learned that Houston has the second largest returning-veteran population and that there is great need for private philanthropic support, coordination of services and collaboration among local agencies.
In response to this information, the Foundation decided to reevaluate our grant portfolio to see how we could have a deeper impact on this issue. We found that there are very few nonprofits applying for funding to serve veterans, as many are not used to applying for private philanthropic dollars. Additionally, we learned that because we did not specifically use the term ‘veteran’ in our literature describing our funding priorities, agencies did not think they were eligible to apply. Without FTEH and our introduction to veteran-serving nonprofits, we never would have known about the barriers these groups faced in the private philanthropy arena.
In response to these learnings, The Simmons Foundation staff has spent considerable time over the past year attending meetings and interfacing with the community. We discovered that women are a special subpopulation within the veteran community, and that agencies are having difficulty locating and providing services to this group. This gap in service is two-fold: many women do not identify as veterans even if they have served in combat; and there is a hesitancy to seek out support, particularly for women who have experienced military sexual trauma.
To address this need, The Foundation created a special invitation-only pool of funds focused on organizations serving female veterans. Viewed as a pilot, funding is intended to provide dollars and leadership to an invited group of applicants. In September of this year, The Foundation awarded grants to five local nonprofits seeking to locate and serve an estimated 22,000 female veterans living in the Greater Houston area. The grant awards are for $12,500 and include professional mentoring through the United Way of Greater Houston’s Learning Circles for nonprofit professionals. This is the first year the Simmons Foundation has offered a grant opportunity specifically targeted at veteran-serving organizations.
In addition to the Learning Circle, the grant will offer an opportunity for the agencies to learn from each other’s approach to service delivery for women veterans participating in their programs. Each of the agencies provide a range of services that address issues such as mental health, homelessness, career transitioning, family reunification/strengthening and access to military benefits.
“We hope that these grants will support our vision of building an educated, tolerant and resilient community, particularly for women veterans. By partnering with the United Way of Greater Houston, we are strengthening our partnership with veteran-serving organizations that work tirelessly to provide our returning servicewomen with support for their transition to the civilian sector,” said Linda May, Executive Director of The Simmons Foundation. “The work of the United Way of Greater Houston to strengthen local nonprofit organizations has already helped tens of thousands of local residents. Their commitment to veteran-serving agencies made this partnership a natural fit.”
Amanda Cloud and Kelli King-Jackson are the Senior Program Officer and Program Officer, respectively, at The Simmons Foundation. The mission of the Simmons Foundation is to partner with organizations that strengthen women, youth and families while building an educated, tolerant and resilient community.