Last year, I was dealing with some major life issues: transitioning careers as an older adult and stressing about loved ones who were incarcerated. My energy was low, and my self-identity was in question. As a single, divorced mom of two young adults, I was trying to be strong and cope with life all alone.
I realized I hadn’t had a great support system since I’d left the Marines over 20 years ago. That was my missing puzzle piece – I needed to find fellow women veterans who understood my experiences and the special bond that military service provides.
I’d tried many times over the years to find such a sounding board, but continually came up short. I knew there were a lot of people with similar experiences out there, but I thought maybe they were like me and hesitant to speak up about their service.
Then suddenly, just when life was hardest and I needed support the most, I found Women Veterans Network (WoVeN), a support group made specifically for women like me.
After attending one of their community focus groups, I eagerly joined WoVeN, and as Marines say, I hit the ground running. I never imagined something so simple could be so life changing, but this organization – and more specifically, the women in it – gave me the spark I needed to push myself to be better and do more.
WoVeN provided me a non-judgmental environment to openly express myself, communicate with and support other women veterans. And when that group came together, it created an atmosphere of energy, respect and understanding that I’d never witnessed in my life. I felt comfortable. The group was motivating and encouraging. I felt a sense of comradeship I hadn’t experienced in years. WoVeN accepted me as-is and put me back on the path to improving my quality of life.
Since then, I’ve been inspired to take personal responsibility for my health and wellbeing. From mountain biking and completing a 5K, to developing new skills and better managing my stress, having this network of women has helped me improve not only my life, but also my family’s.
Because this was such a valuable experience, I wanted to do more to give back. I’ve started to reach out to other women veterans and engage with them outside of the WoVeN community. Now, I have an extended family I can call on anytime. My hope is that WoVeN will continue to grow and reach more women veterans all over this country, so they can have the same experience and support I have.
In 2017, the Walmart Foundation awarded a $469,000 grant to the Boston University School of Medicine (BU) to support the establishment of the WoVeN initiative. Through WoVeN, BU clinicians and researchers are leading a five-year initiative to establish a nationwide network of structured, trained peer-facilitated, 10-week support groups for women veterans to enhance wellness, quality of life, family relationships and referrals for additional services. Today, the Walmart Foundation is building on the existing grant to BU and is bringing its total commitment to WoVeN to nearly $720,000 with the announcement of an additional $250,782 grant. The program is projected to reach approximately 2,500 women veterans by the end of 2022.