Hannah Rael and Chris Davis
Support groups build partnerships across public and private sectors-
Representatives from more than 40 local agencies and nonprofits that support veterans in the tri-counties come together every other month for VetNet meetings, which provide an opportunity to network, share resources, collaborate and coordinate services and maximize their collective ability to serve those who have served our country.
The idea began in 2014 when Hazel Blankenship, co-founder of the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation (PCVF) and Arlene Stepputat, manager of volunteer services at Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care (VNHC) saw a need for better coordination among organizations serving veterans.
“It became clear that we needed to connect groups in town that already had programs to help veterans rather than create something new,” said Blankenship. “We’re not seeking to raise revenue, but rather to build relationships.”
The two women met through a mutual contact who was familiar with VNHC’s Vet-to-Vet Volunteer Program and veteran pinning ceremonies, which are part of the We Honor Veterans program with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.
“We noticed there was a gap in organizations working with vets and not knowing what the other groups were doing,” Stepputat said.
The first meeting was held in September 2014. That December, VetNet experienced its first true test.
Hazel Blankenship, left, and Arlene Stepputat co-host regular VetNet meetings.
Hazel Blankenship, left, and Arlene Stepputat co-host regular VetNet meetings. (Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation)
Officer C.J. Burleigh, of the Santa Barbara Police Department, referred a veteran family in crisis to VetNet. Within 24 hours of alerting the network via email, VetNet collectively provided the family with childcare, food, a refrigerator, money, toys for the children, gas cards, a Christmas tree and an apartment in Carpinteria.
Since then, Blankenship estimates about 50 other veteran families have been helped directly through in-kind donations, financial aid or services. Also, many veterans have been referred to the Veterans Treatment Court with help from VetNet.
“VetNet is an opportunity for the community to see partnerships that cross public-service and private-sector segments of the community,” said Blankenship.
The VetNet steering committee includes the Alano Club of Santa Barbara, Employment Development Department of the State of California Workforce Resource Center, New Beginnings Counseling Center, Santa Barbara Police Department, and the UCSB Veterans Resource Center. PCVF provides lunch for the meetings and VNHC offers its community room as a meeting space.
VetNet communicates with attendees via email regarding upcoming meetings and emergency notices.
To learn more about joining VetNet, email Arlene Stepputat atArlene.Stepputat@vnhcsb.org.
Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation works to support veterans and active-duty military members in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. PCVF also preserves military history and legacy. For more information, visit www.pcvf.org or call 259-4394.
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