The needs of veterans and their families are vast and complex. Government departments such as Defense and Veterans Affairs, while providing a tremendous amount of support to veterans and their families, have been challenged in recent years by the enormous increasing needs of this sector. More than 2.7 million U.S. military personnel have been deployed since 2001, the year the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. California is estimated to have the second-largest population of veterans (1.7 million) in the nation with more than 40,000 veterans calling Kern County home.

Philanthropyroundtable.org recently published Uniform Champions, a guidebook to excellent assistance for veterans. In addition to chronicling a dozen impactful efforts around the country that support veterans, the guidebook lays out some key strategies to be considered in making lasting impacts.

It suggests that veteran-focused philanthropy is extremely challenging because the desire to help individuals is compounded by feelings of patriotism. Only when we strip away much of the emotion and look at the complex problems veterans face with a critical eye can we create lasting solutions.

Here are four things to consider about veteran-focused philanthropy:

1. Veterans are assets to be built up, not liabilities to be fixed. Focus on reintegration. While thanking veterans for their service is often the initial reason donors engage in veteran philanthropy, the more pressing challenge is helping veterans successfully and sustainably transition back into civilian life.

2. Act locally. While many veterans receive support from the federal government, some of the most effective solutions are implemented at the local level, supporting these well-trained individuals in the communities where they live.

3. Give with your heart … and your head. With veteran-related issues, assessment can be challenging: Donors give to veterans’ issues not only because they care about the cause, but also because it demonstrates patriotism and gratitude for veterans’ service.

4. Learn More. Veteran-focused philanthropy is complicated, but a thoughtful strategy can be instrumental in creating important, lasting change in the way services are provided to veterans and their families. Support only charities that you recognize and confirm that the organization has 501©(3) public charity status.

Kern Community Foundation identifies a number of veteran-focused or -related agencies operating within Kern County that have registered with the foundation and earned at least a silver level seal of transparency on GuideStar, including:

• California Veterans Assistance Foundation, the organizing agency behind the Kern County Veterans Stand Down

• China Lake Museum Foundation

• Farmer Veteran Coalition

• Got Ur 6

• Honor Flight Kern County

• Wounded Heroes Fund

• Wounded Warrior Project

Learn more about these agencies on our website, kernfoundation.org/nonprofitsearch. Also consider that sometimes, the agencies that may be most helpful to veterans are those that are excellent in supporting other populations. Whether it is health care, job placement or education, it may be more effective to approach existing champions in a particular category and see if they are already offering programs to support veterans.

We all need to recognize the service and sacrifice of the Kern County men and women in uniform – if not for their contributions, there would be no opportunity to pass along the many blessings of living in this wonderful community we call home. 

Kristen Beall, Ed.D., is the president and CEO at Kern Community Foundation. Contact her at Kristen@kernfoundation.org or 616-2601. The views expressed in this column are her own.

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