Providing A Valuable "Kinnection" to Veterans
Pictured left to right: Charley Stetson (Army), Dan Royce (Army), Michael Logue (Marines), Kyle Welker (Navy), Brent Centers (Air Force) and Devon Aey (Marines).
Photo by Daniel Smyth
Abraham Lincoln famously described fallen soldiers as having given the “last full measure of devotion” to their cause. That measure has been given in multitudes throughout America’s brief but meaningful history. Yet for those military veterans whose devotion was full but not final, integrating back into society can be a challenge.
Because they chose to give part of their lives in service to their country, veterans often find themselves behind the curve of their civilian counterparts when returning from service. While many young professionals have completed their education, entered the workforce, grown networks and are working towards promotions, most veterans are just beginning their education or are trying to find employment in a new and foreign career path, often at a fraction of the pay. They desire to work hard and earn a living to provide for their families, but they must start over in a foreign environment where they’re too often left by themselves to ‘figure it out.’
Without appropriate resources and connections, veterans can get lost in the gap that divides their personal struggles from the distant thicket of resources promising to help them.
A group of local veterans understands this experience. They come from diverse backgrounds, having served in the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force. They have fought for the United States in various locations across the globe and returned to local universities, employment opportunities and a welcoming society that was unsure how to best help them succeed. In 2013 this group, led by Army Veteran Dan Royce, decided to create the change they wanted to see. They aligned with many like-minded business and community leaders to help motivated veterans transition successfully. Veteran Kinnection ( VK) was formed.
What is Veteran Kinnection?
VK fills the communication and service gap that exists between veterans resource organizations, veterans and their families, and the community of businesses and individuals that want to help veterans succeed. These veterans include men and women who have served in the armed forces, are getting ready to go into the service, or are currently active.
That VK formed so “naturally,” as Royce describes it, indicates that the community’s desire for such an organization predated its creation. Royce had only to funnel preexisting energies to an al- ready desired end. “We see the passion every day,” says Royce. “We just needed to pull it all together and give it some guidance.”
Royce describes VK as a “lean, modern-day, nonprofit organization that looks to assist motivated, transitioning veterans and their families by providing education, resources, tools, connections, and a positive support system.
“We tap into the resources that exist in the community to support our veterans,” he says. “Veteran Kinnection is a way to build relationships between the veterans themselves and Cincinnati’s tremendous organizations and individuals.”
Part of Royce’s motivation for VK derives from the prevailing narrative about returning combat personnel, which focuses on former servicemen and servicewomen with Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD) and their ability (or inability) to successfully function in society. “We wanted to take back that narrative. There are a lot of us who have overcome and we want to tell our own story.”
Royce says the mission of Veteran Kinnection is to identify veterans who are ready and motivated to take the next step in their lives after service and give them “a hand up, not a hand out.”
Many people ask him for specifics about the organization’s mission. “We do what our veterans need us to do,” Royce replies. “We focus on education, employment, wellness, and finance. But we are also more than an organization – we are a grassroots, boots-on-the-ground city-wide movement.”
Veteran Kinnection customizes each interaction to assure that it is beneficial to all parties. “We sit down with the veterans and go through a customized process in order to determine what is the best route to success, and we sit down with groups and individuals willing to help and determine how they can most effectively do so.”
Fundamentally, the organization provides a bridge between veterans and the community. Most civilians build these bridges on their own over the course of their lives – often without knowing it. VK aids this process by helping veterans avoid stumbling blocks and navigate obstacles that interfere with their success. This common-sense approach educates them about personal finance, proceeding with their education, joining a gym or recreational athletic team and even things as simple as paying their bills.
“There is a big communication gap between veterans and resources, and our goal is to bridge it,” says Royce.
But there are many kinds of bridges. In addition to the many national veteran organizations, there are also many smaller support groups that have a desire to help but simply aren’t sure how to fulfill that mission. Building bridges with them is integral as well.
“We embrace their efforts and find out what we can do to bring them the resources they need. We make the most of their efforts because the more we can help them succeed, the more people we will be helping,” says Royce.
Building on Both Sides
Royce also talks about bridge-building in the context of personal relationships with the veterans themselves. “Everything we do is based on building personal relationships. Our vets are not numbers or data. They represent people and families. So we meet every veteran face-to-face, and every bond we create is based on compassion. We set forth commitments and expectations and we owe it to each other to meet them.”
This reciprocity, built on a foundation of empathy and compassion, illuminates Royce’s philosophy about bridge-building: there must be effort on both sides. Bridges can only be built where there is a preexisting desire to do so, just like a connection can only be created where both parties want there to be one in the first place.
A pivotal part of this equation is Veteran Kinnection’s model of leveraging what businesses and individuals already do rather than asking for something they don’t. It’s about efficiently allocating resources. “We play to everyone’s strengths and desires,” says Royce.
What Royce most ardently refuses is the notion that Veteran Kinneciton is some sort of social expense: “The way we are trying to approach this is that the majority of our veteran population are motivated, engaged individuals with valuable skills who want to be able to do more in their community, and instead of looking at helping them as a social expense, we should look at it as a social investment. We provide them the resources and they are held accountable. If we can help them use their skills and give them guidance, they can become tremendous, service-minded leaders who will give back to the community.”
The value of Veteran Kinnection’s model lies in its sustainability and scalability. It encourages individuals and corporations to do what they’re already doing for the benefit of people they already want to assist with the end result of helping community-minded veterans transition into society, where they will do the same for future generations. It is a self-perpetuating, positive feedback loop that robustly improves the community simply by letting it do more efficiently what it would do in any case.
That, says Royce, is the ultimate goal for military veterans trying to find their place in society. Improving the community is about understanding the legacy of one’s forbears, and implied in that legacy is an imperative to leave the human community better than one first finds it. It is a mission veterans can support.
“Everyone should recognize they have been given an opportunity by someone else who came before. Everyone should be thankful for what they have. From there, we can focus on improving the lives around us,” says Royce, summing VK’s purpose. “That is what we do at Veteran Kinnection. We stress that we can lead by example and do the right thing.”
You can reach Veteran Kinnection at 844.KINNECT (546.6328) or visit their website at www.veterankinnection.com.