Connection and Growth Center
I would like to introduce myself. I am Michael Whitehead, my wife Annjanine and I, Project RED Friday, in Lowell Arkansas.
I’ll never forget the pride I felt when my son graduated from basic training at Fort Benning three years ago. It was a gift to witness the bond he made with his platoon-mates, their growth and their commitment to serve. I will also never forget how many of his new ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ had no family to share this milestone with, and some with no support system back home.
At no time in a soldier’s life is a support system more important than the transition from military to civilian life. The mission of Project Red Friday is to help soldiers feel appreciated while they are in the service, and to support veterans after their close of service. We achieve this mission through public appreciation events for soldiers and veterans, and support groups in Benton and Washington Counties that help veterans navigate the myriad of resources, challenges and emotions that confront them when they return to the home front.
Given the rise in the veteran population over the past 10 years as a result of a 15-year long ‘forgotten’ war that we are still fighting, it is no surprise that the system is unable to keep up. In 2014, the latest year that data was available, more than 7,400 veterans took their own lives, accounting for 18 percent of all suicides in the United States; veterans make up less than 9 percent of the U.S. population. This fact alone is evidence of the need for better systems to help veterans cope and reintegrate into civilian life. Project Red Friday seeks to help break the tragic cycle of personal isolation, depression and suicide that has been engulfing the lives of our military brothers and sisters. In striving toward this goal our comprehensive support program emphasizes a peer-to-peer approach.
The focus of our support groups is enabling veterans to assist other at-risk veterans in addressing the challenges they re-encounter as civilians. Our initiative emulates the best practices of other successful veteran-reintegration models -- incorporating an intensive series of veteran-led workshops and augmented by individual case management & advocacy. After vets have completed the initial round of ‘training,’ they are encouraged to come back—as often as they like—for weekly follow-up and networking meetings, which are also led by veterans.
With the Communities support we plan to scale our model. Thanks to generous support from individual donors, our organization raised $40,000 in 2016, enabling us to successfully pilot our program, aiding 20 vets. In 2017 we hope to bring this initiative to the next level by training more outreach specialists and trainers, offering a total of 2 series of transition workshops per year, and positively impacting the lives of more veterans.
Our program focuses on three broad, inter-connected, areas of activity: outreach, training, and ongoing support of veterans. Much of our outreach will takes place through appreciation events for veterans and active duty service members, which we will organize on approximately a monthly basis. These events range from family cookouts, where all soldiers & vets are treated as guests of honor, to fundraising concerts and care-package drives. Volunteers, most of whom are veterans, are utilized to actively reach out to other veterans to attend these events and our workshops, primarily through presentations at local houses of worship. For those veterans who need support, we guide them through our comprehensive civilian reintegration workshop series. Each workshop series is 6-weeks in duration and includes expert speakers from the VA, social service agencies, higher education, and the business community who cover topics including: accessing benefits and healthcare through the VA, leveraging military experience during a job search, educational & loan programs for veterans, mental health services, and more.
We have developed a kind of veterans’ assistance program -- run by veterans, for other veterans and representing a younger cohort of ex-service men and women -- that does not exist anywhere else in Benton or Washington County. Our target demographic is post-9/11 veterans who have served in the Middle East over the last 15 years. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many post-9/11 veterans are much more prone to experiencing an absence of faith in the social service system, as well as a deficit in trust in society, overall. As a result of this trust deficit, these veterans have been falling through the cracks in the current social service system. In addressing this core issue, our curriculum leverages the military’s rich tradition of values in which our target demographic is already invested. We simply re-cycle and re-purpose these values and principles for the civilian world.
It gives me great satisfaction that (3 years) after my son’s graduation I maintain contact with many of his peers. Their expression of gratitude -- for the care packages, counsel and peace of mind knowing they will have us as support when they return -- is what motivates our team to pursue this work.
In 1971, Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams, founded the Gesundheit Institute. The goal of the institute is to be a community help center. One day you may be the Doctor the next you may be the patient. This is what our Connection and Growth Center will be for our military. We have created several different structures for “for Profit” business on the property to sustain it, however we would like to get your help in the beginning stages of the Connection and Growth Center. Following is just a small part of what the C&GC will be used for.
Project RED Friday, would utilize this property to create a place where Active Duty Military, Veterans, Future soldiers, Law Enforcement, Schools and Corporations, with in a six hour circumference, can come together to mentor and support each other.
What other purposes will C&GC serve;
Builders: C&GC will work with local and regional Builders to provide workshops to trade classes in our local and regional schools. the goal would be to mentor these programs and help build these trade classes with real life programs.
Schools: C&GC will provide many mentor ship programs ranging from builder mentor ship to actual hands on business programs working with veterans to create functional students with real life experience. C&GC will provide, with it's military obstacle course, "boot camp" opportunities for team building programs.
Corporations: C&GC will provide, through various things on the property, team building programs that are tailored to corporations needs to build team work in their business'.
Equipping our Veterans: C&GC will work with Veterans that are interested in developing their own business', by providing them with the resources to start, build and develop their own business'. These are some things that can be done on the property that will help these veterans succeed in their ventures. The goal of each of these would be to have veterans run these and mentor school kids in the process.
Green House/Aqua Ponics/Organic Gardening.
C&GC will provide many different opportunities for Military men and women, Veterans, Schools and Corporations. Here are our fund raising goals;
Phase 1, raise $475,000.00
Phase 2, raise $755,000.00
Phase 3, raise $425,000.00
All financial gifts are tax deductible.
How can you help support the Connection and Growth Center?
There are creative ways that Business’ can get involved and help financially support C&GC.
Anyone and Everyone: Go to this link to donate and support the Connection and Growth Center.
We have plans for Builders, Commercial Contractors, Retail Vending, Restaurants, Corporations and Others. If your company would like to be a part of C&GC, contact us and we will help develop an idea that works for you.