ConnectOC Blog

One isn’t the loneliest number. In fact, one can be the spark that brings people together. If you ever question your ability to achieve change, consider how OCCF began to embrace service members and help integrate them back into civilian life. One person, Bob Greenberg, planted the seed that grew into the Orange County Veterans Initiative (OCVI). A veteran, Greenberg approached us in 2011 to learn more about the challenges facing local veterans. His interest and inquiry gave us the impetus to take a closer look at local veterans’ issues which ultimately  resulted in OCCF commissioning USC’s “The State of the American Veteran: The Orange County Veterans Study.” The groundbreaking report revealed that military veterans coming home to Orange County are significantly underprepared for civilian life. Guided by what we learned from the study and with support from our generous donors, OCCF delivered $500,000 in October 2015 to seven nonprofits to support programs for transitioning veterans and their families.

Orange County employers cite a lack of available talent as an obstacle to growth, while too many returning military veterans struggle to find career success in their civilian lives. But thanks to local nonprofit organizations focused on improving assessment and referral services for veterans and their families, the solution to these difficult problems could lie in employment-support programs, such as Goodwill’s Tierney Center For Veteran Services and WorkFirst Bob Hope Veterans Support Program, a division of Easter Seals Southern California (ESSC). As part of our Orange County Veterans Initiative, OCCF awarded $75,000 to Goodwill Industries of Orange County to help veterans and their families find economic independence and self-sufficiency. ESSC was awarded $50,000 to bolster its results-oriented, individually customized, career advancement program, which provides participants with free assessment, employment-related guidance and holistic support from job specialists who also are veterans.

 Brent Theobald grew up digging for World War II artifacts on the beaches of Papua New Guinea, forging a kindred link with the Greatest Generation with each relic he discovered. No doubt, stories of their heroism as well as their call to do the right thing motivated him to join the U.S. Marine Corps at age 18 – an enlistment that took him to the Horn of Africa and beyond. By 20, he was fighting the War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet nothing he had experienced could prepare him for his greatest challenge: transitioning out of the military without a safety net and finding himself nearly unable to escape the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. With the help of an unlikely lifeline – a rescued shelter dog named after a military friend who died in battle – Theobald went on to build a life of purpose as a civilian, he now helps other transitioning veterans find their way.

Pat Donahue, chairman and CEO of Donahue Schriber (left) and Shelley Hoss, president, Orange County Community Foundation (right) with Admiral Mike Mullen, 17th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of StaffThey fought to protect our homeland, and now Orange County’s real estate industry is stepping up to help protect them. After serving in the longest war in U.S. history, post-9/11 veterans reported more difficulty adjusting to civilian life, with 61% of veterans who served after 9/11 reporting adjustment challenges compared to 30% of pre-9/11 veterans. This discovery – just one of the findings from “The State of the American Veteran: The Orange County Veterans Study” that OCCF commissioned – spurred 450 real estate leaders to contribute $580,000 at the inaugural O.C. Real Estate Luncheon last month. And even more importantly, event organizers are committing to hold the fundraiser annually and donate proceeds for the first three years to local organizations serving veterans. “The real estate industry truly cares about our community, and we couldn’t think of a better place to start our efforts than with heroes coming home to Orange County," said Donahue Schriber Chairman and CEO Pat Donahue.

A home is meant to be a sanctuary, the ultimate representation of safety and security for many Americans – even the very symbol of why most military veterans elected to serve our country. Yet in Orange County, high housing costs combined with lower income means too many residents are homeless or live in unstable housing, including returning service members. As we learned from “The State of the American Veteran: The Orange County Veterans Study,” one out of every six Orange County veterans who enlisted post 9/11 was homeless at some point in 2014. By comparison, only one in 10 of pre-9/11 veterans experienced homelessness that year. This is just one of the burdens we’re trying to address on behalf of local veterans, but it will take the entire Orange County community to understand the complicated issue and embrace solutions for change.