In his last public speech, the great Revolutionary War orator Patrick Henry cried, "United we stand, divided we fall." It seems fitting to recall this saying the week our country celebrates Independence Day, a holiday made possible by America's first organized army.
It is also imperative that we remember Patrick Henry's words today, especially as they relate to the return of our Service members from war. I worry about the future for these heroes and their families -- not necessarily their future tomorrow or the day after -- but their future five or ten years down the road. They are phenomenal and just need a little assistance during transition and reintegration into civil society and they will soar.
Hundreds of thousands of services and programs exist today to assist veterans and their families. While that number is impressive, it's simply overwhelming to a veteran whose own reintegration into his/her family and community can be all-consuming. That's where independent backbone organizations like Dixon Center at Easter Seals and Points of Light Institute Community Blueprint come in.
For example, Dixon Center at its core, works to strengthen communities by aligning the nationwide network of support locally so that veterans and military families can thrive where they live. This includes assisting organizations so they can sustain their momentum and maintain the best possible services. At the same time, it is also a goal to encourage service groups to look beyond the present and consider how they will build for the long haul.
Many of these services, now mainly divided, must unite in order to ensure a sustainable life for veterans and their families in three key civilian sectors:
• Education that will enable veterans transition beyond battlefield knowledge to private sector careers;
• Meaningful employment that pulls in a "family wage";
• Access to healthcare for vets and families that goes beyond physical and mental diagnosis to include behavioral support such as faith-based care, peer-to-peer listening and mentoring.
We need like-minded and complementary organizations to unite and deliver "wrap-around" services (education, employment, health care, transportation, housing, access to legal and financial services, etc.) -- all in their community. We need these non-profits, government agencies, civic and corporate entities talking to each other about collective impact in their communities. I call this concept "consolidation."
Organizations feel threatened by consolidation. They think it will strip them of their identity or dissolve their authority and leadership on the issue. Not true. In fact, consolidation will strengthen an organization's impact because the focus goes so much beyond individual influence.
Just three weeks ago I received an email asking for my help setting up a group to help veterans get employment on Wall Street. The well-meaning individual acknowledged that like-minded groups existed but still wanted to explore his own non-profit. I challenged him: Why not integrate rather than compete? Fall in on existing groups such as Wall Street Warfighters or Veterans on Wall Street. There are so many groups already. Why do we need yet another?
Consolidation includes local organizations using their activities to reinforce each other beyond information sharing. It is exemplified when like-minded organizations work in lockstep to provide direct services and solutions to veterans and their families. Consider an amazing initiative between four very disparate types of resources (civic, corporate, government and social non-profits) that took place this year in Chicago. Under the leadership of the Utility Workers of America, the state of Illinois linked up 75 of its student veterans with City College of Chicago to help them get reduced-fee certification and licensing. People's Gas got involved because it needed qualified workers and could offer jobs. But we also had to look beyond jobs to ensure that support systems existed to ensure success. There was a need to consider the unique needs of the veterans and their families. Did the vets have the proper transportation? Did they have coverage for childcare needs? How could we get the three homeless vets living in their cars into local affordable housing?
Our veterans achieved success in Chicago because multiple organizations worked together for the common good and using a shared measurement for success. By focusing on a "whole of society" solution, rather than their own small pieces of the puzzle, five organizations in Illinois enabled 75 veterans to succeed -- and this effort continues.
As we celebrate America's independence this week, let us not forget the power of our own local interdependence. We all have the ability to abandon isolated efforts for a more effective, advantageous collective impact for our veterans and their families by those who benefited from their sacrifice and now share a community. It's time we shift our thinking, step out of our divided silos and become united once more.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and OPS-USA, a television initiative focused on helping veterans help communities. For more information on OPS-USA, click here.