Even Hurricane Sandy’s destruction to a Hope For The Warriors New York office didn’t keep representatives from visiting the university during the weekend.
Hope For The Warriors is a nationwide non-for-profit organization that helps enhance the quality of life for post-9/11 service members, their families and families of those whose loved ones fell in a line of duty, said Ryan McKennedy, a senior from Rockford studying psychology and vice president of the SIU Veterans Organization. The organization’s New York office was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, but the group’s founders still sent representatives to the university to speak on the group’s behalf Friday and Saturday, said Brian Schiller, a Hope for the Warriors volunteer.
Schiller said the organization visited the university to make its presence known, establish a partnership with the Veterans Services and expose its opportunities to the members who don’t know about them.
“Beginning in an educational setting that helps promote the transition as well as one of the top 10 most military-friendly schools in the country is the perfect place to start,” he said.
While the group has financially and emotionally supported thousands of the country’s service members, Schiller said SIU is the first university Hope For The Warriors ever worked with.
The organization was founded in 2006 by three North Carolina military wives who witnessed first-hand how war affects service members and their families, McKennedy said. The organization now has offices and representatives throughout the country.
Schilller said the Department of Defense and other governmental services can provide only as much to soldiers and their families as is written into law such as transportation, lodging and grocery money. However, he said Hope For The Warriors provides assistance to cover the families’ responsibilities for when they are called to be by the service members’ sides.
“When families get that phone call at 3 a.m., telling them their loved one has been hurt and they need to get there immediately, the government takes care of them completely in getting to where they need to go,” Schiller said. “But the utility company and the landlord won’t care what they’re going through, and that’s where we step in to take care of what they left behind at home so they won’t come back to additional things to worry about.”
Rob Cork, Hope For The Warriors’ operations director, said one thing the organization wants veterans to know is that the group is nationwide and would like to connect with as many members of the service as possible.
“We want them to be able to come to us for whatever it is they need to feel whole again and restore anything that’s missing,” Cork said. “Whether it be assistance with a house payment or a box of diapers for your baby, we are here for you. Don’t be afraid to call us.”
Cristian Nunez, the organization’s program and outreach coordinator, said his life goal is to work with the military and help as many people as he can.
“I want everyone to know that when we help them it won’t be a one time assistance,” he said. “We’ll help you with what you need and continuosly check up on you on a regular basis because once we meet you, you become a part of our family.”
Nunez said one of the organization’s missions is to reassure soldiers and their families that Hope for The Warriors understands The family is hurt when the service member is hurt.
“I think we’re doing an amazing job at getting these service members back on their feet and becoming active again, regaining their love for life and getting back to who they were before they went into service,” Nunez said.
The university and Hope for The Warriors have not finalized any partnership plans yet, but the two will communicate with one another to potentially work close together, said Rod Santulan, coordinator of the SIU Veterans Services coordinator.
“We are just honored and thrilled to be the first university that they even considered working with,” he said. “We hope to spread the word of their work to our veterans.”