27 May 2020 Home Base Southwest Florida’s Mission for Vets: Innovate, Adapt, Overcome
When the service missions end for local military veterans and their families, the mission of the nonprofit Home Base Southwest Florida begins.
With the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs showing that Southwest Florida is home to roughly 106,000 military veterans, Home Base’s call of duty is Warrior Health, which is designed to empower veterans to take control of their overall well-being through physical health, social connections and access to more complex care for those in need of treatment for invisible emotional wounds.
During these times of increased anxiety and isolation due to COVID-19, the role of the organization in the lives of those it serves has taken on increased immediacy. And like the Marine Corps mantra, Home Base is on a mission to innovate, adapt and overcome as it delivers virtual whole-health programs in the areas of physical fitness, social opportunities and a new clinical program launched last Fall on Veterans Day.
“We quickly expanded into a project called Operation Health at Home,” says Armando Hernandez, Home Base Southwest Florida program manager and a Marine Corps Iraq veteran. “We started developing extensive wellness content focused on physical health, nutrition, mindfulness and mental health and delivered it via our online platforms so we could stay connected with veterans, families and supporters.”
Home Base Southwest Florida is the local presence of the Home Base national organization, a partnership of the Boston Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital. Designed to overcome common barriers to care for returning veterans, regardless of their ability to pay or discharge status, Home Base Southwest Florida’s services are delivered at no cost as it deploys the organization’s family-focused model of care that extends to not only veterans, but their family members, all of whom are affected by returning veterans’ transitions back into civilian life.
Wellness program participants have access to physical fitness, rehabilitation, and exercise and nutrition science resources through Home Base’s partnership with Florida Gulf Coast University, as well as the comprehensive mental health resources offered by the national organization.
Since not all veterans can come to the free Warrior Health program based at FGCU, Home Base devised ways to bring the program to them. “We went out into the community where our veterans are, extending the program through partnerships with Lee Health and local YMCAs,” says Jason Cooper, assistant director of development for Home Base and a Marine Corps Iraq veteran.
The physical fitness aspect of Warrior Health opens the door to veterans thinking more broadly about how they and their families might benefit from not only health in body, but also in mind and in spirit. It’s not always easy for returning veterans to admit they may need some help dealing with the aftermath of their combat service. Oftentimes, focusing on physical health, a familiar element in the rigors of combat service, can be a crucial first step toward focusing on overall well-being, and it’s all tied to a sense of community.
“We’re not all fitting into our service uniforms like we once were,” Mr. Cooper says, “so we invite them to work out with us. To work with expert trainers. To take advantage of free Y memberships and social opportunities. These are all ways to build supportive relationships with, and among, our veterans, who will then begin to share experiences with each other and be more apt to hear about and ask about other clinical aspects of the program.”
As Home Base Southwest Florida continues to innovate ways to soldier on in service to our veterans, Mr. Hernandez says the community impact grant provided by the Southwest Florida Community Foundation has helped to shore up their efforts during a time when we are all facing an invisible foe that struck with lightning quickness.
“The Community Foundation has been incredibly supportive,” he says. “And it’s not just in financial resources, but they are also truly engaged in the work of the nonprofit community, bringing everyone together through Zoom meetings to strengthen all of us during these times.”
Although no one can accurately predict when the region may return to a sense of normalcy, with the finality of “mission accomplished” on the COVID-19 crisis front, Home Base Southwest Florida’s determination to see that no warrior is left behind in his or her transition back into community life will continue to fuel its mission to innovate, adapt and overcome.
For more information, please contact Armando Hernandez at 239-770-2414, or by email at [email protected].
This article is part of a summer series that highlights the vital work of regional recipients of 2020 Community Impact Grants from the Southwest Florida Community Foundation.