Serving veterans and their families through programs and resources to mitigate crises, improve their lives, and empower them to prosper in the community will continue to be the mission and top priority of ForcesUnited under the leadership of new President and CEO Victoria Hann. Victoria, the daughter of an Air Force veteran herself, has more than 23 years of experience in managing nonprofit organizations. She says, “Like many, we are in a phase of transition and change. We’ve had a leadership change with former CEO Kim Elle retiring and a huge loss with our board chair, Sam Tyson, passing away. However, we have a very strong Executive Committee and Board who are very committed to our mission and service to our warriors.”
“As far as transition, we know what our core values are,” says Victoria, “but we are looking at each of the areas that our organization provides and what we look like in this new space as an operation. We are looking at how we are operating internally, how we are moving out into the collaborative partnerships, and how programs are shifting to address these needs, which are growing daily. We have some re-sculpting to do, but the core values are not going to change.”
Founded in 2007 as the Augusta Warrior Project, the non-profit organization meets the needs of transitioning service members, veterans, and their families. Although the organization went through the rebranding process a few years ago, the basic mission has remained consistent. “We rebranded from Augusta Warrior Project to ForcesUnited,” says Victoria, “and since that time, we’ve served more than 17,000 transitioning service members and their families.”
ForcesUnited serves 33 counties that cross between Georgia and South Carolina and is specially set up to help veterans in the CSRA while collaborating with the VA system and Fort Gordon.
“We’re attracting so many new military members with our missions at Fort Gordon and then, once they transition out, they are our neighbors and part of our community,” says Victoria. “We focus on assisting in navigation of benefits available to them, collaborating with other service agencies, and serve as a referral source - not to duplicate, but to connect to opportunities for assistance.”
Striving to take a holistic approach to helping veterans, ForcesUnited collaborates between departments to ensure veterans thrive in all areas of their life by providing assistance with housing, benefits, health and wellness, education, and employment. These areas that were crucial before the economic turmoil of 2020 have become even more challenging for veterans today.
“In the division of employment, we’re really looking at how we serve in that area and how we can meet the new needs we’re seeing among our veterans, who are losing their jobs, and how that connects to our local employer base,” explains Victoria.
“Additionally, we’re making sure that during a time that’s really vulnerable for so many, housing is stabilized because it’s a fundamental need. We're making sure that when people are losing jobs, they have the resources they need to maintain their roof over their heads.”
“We do disperse some funds because we’ve been able to secure some grants to help with direct funding,” says Victoria, “but more importantly, we look [through a holistic lens to understand why] this individual is in this situation. Is it because of employment? So that ties back into employment services. We work one on one with the clients we serve, and we work in a holistic approach to addressing their needs.”
Part of that holistic approach involves being intentional to address the overall health and wellness of the veteran community. “The other area we focus on is health and wellness - especially right now with our current environment nationally and globally - through physical health, mental health, and wellness initiatives,” says Victoria. “Cycling and kayaking events are some of the different platforms for engaging in physical wellbeing, but they also provide a sense of community and camaraderie, which is good for everyone's mental health.”
Within the stories of the veterans helped though ForcesUnited, you find the heart of the organization. Victoria shares, “A recent request came from a veteran who was laid off from her job as a daycare worker in March. The daycare was shut down due to COVID. She’s not been able to return to work because the daycare has not reopened. She needed help with her September rent, or she would have been without housing. We helped her with her rent, but in addition to that, we connected her with other partners who could help her navigate through this situation. From there, she [connects with] our employment services, where we can help her identify potential employment opportunities.”
Victoria gives credit to the amazing staff, who are appropriately called advocates, for serving their clients so well. “It is a personal and professional privilege to work with this group and to have been selected as the director and leader of these really talented individuals who care about people and whose niche is caring for the individuals who have cared for our country.”
Advocates make it a priority to listen to the needs of their clients, get to know them, and use all the tools in their collaboration toolkit to come up with solutions to a variety of challenges. “I’m very privileged to work with these individuals who make magic happen every day and it really is magic to witness,” says Victoria. “They get a call from someone who is desperate, or maybe someone who just needs to know that someone is there to help them, hear them, and help them make connections. They dialogue, talk it through, and then if they need to connect to other internal divisions, that connection is made.”
Many of the connections made through ForcesUnited rely on community partnerships, especially from local businesses eager to train and hire veterans. Additionally, there are a variety of opportunities to come alongside ForcesUnited in educational and fundraising campaigns. “We have a lot of businesses that do third party types of events or marketing efforts to support our organization,” says Victoria. “There are many opportunities for them to tie in their own outreach and marketing platforms to benefit our mission.”
“We have our Eleven to Eleven campaign going on right now,” says Victoria. “It’s an awareness and fundraising platform where we have certain events like a golf tournament, a kayaking event, and a raffle. The Eleven to Eleven campaign was started a few years ago to recognize September 11th, what that meant to our country, and the individuals who served during that crisis. We carry on through Veteran’s Day to rally individuals together to better understand who we are and those we are serving.”
As an organization, ForcesUnited (previously the Augusta Warrior Project) was the first of its kind and now serves as a blueprint for other veteran organizations being created across the country. With those core values still firmly in place and under Victoria's seasoned leadership, ForcesUnited will continue to provide extraordinary services to veterans and their families.
The ForcesUnited offices are located at 701 Green Street, Augusta. For more information on services offered to veterans and their families, or to find out how you or your business can support or partner with ForcesUnited, visit ForcesUnited.org or call 706-951-7506.