Upon graduation, I took a leap of faith and moved to Tampa to complete an internship for Team RWB. Not 100% sure what my role would be when I came down here, I was soon to be enlightened by a whole population I was too naïve to realize existed. Team RWB introduced me to the Homeless Emergency Project during my first week in Florida. The Homeless Emergency Project Inc., or HEP, serves roughly 120 veterans at any-given time. It was perfect timing for me to arrive in Tampa when I did, as the activities coordinator for HEP had just taken a job elsewhere. This left 120 veterans basically stranded at the shelter with no way of connecting to the community.
I was unaware that many who had served our country ended up in a homeless shelter or at risk for being homeless, and many within this demographic were Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. The reintegration process has taken a toll on these veterans. This situation combined with certain disabilities has led to substance abuse, poor decisions, and unemployment. Although HEP is a wonderful organization that provides mental health services, meals, housing, substance abuse counselors, and other services, there was still something lacking; the physical and social component. After seeing the tremendous success Team RWB has achieved by integrating these components into their mission, I knew I had found my role. I began to plan activities to get these veterans moving and meeting new people. In less than a month, there were residents from HEP running in 5k races, participating in Team RWB sponsored socials, going on outings, and becoming involved in volunteer opportunities. I will never forget what a resident said to me after completing a local 5k race on the beach, “I have not run in 3 years, if I had not been given this opportunity, I would have never known I could run the whole thing”. The next day, the same resident came into the clubhouse and ran on the treadmill.
I have been blessed to spend one-on-one time with the veterans at HEP, and get to know them as the wonderful people they are. Team RWB has given these veterans an opportunity to shake the stereotype of being homeless and provided them with a feeling of being a part of something great. I believe the spirit that Team RWB has brought to HEP has increased the motivation of the residents to better themselves. (more…)