Award winners announced as organization launches educational program to raise awareness about programs and services to help veterans in need
Veterans’ advocates and community leaders joined together at the California State Capitol Tuesday to launch a 3-month campaign by Nation’s Finest to raise awareness about programs and services to help Veterans in need.
Coinciding with National Suicide Prevention Month, the community outreach program aims to shine a light on the alarming statistics impacting Veterans – from mental health and high suicide rates to homelessness and unemployment — and help connect Veterans and their families to resources that honor their service and ensure their care and success.
“The suicide rate among Veterans remains high, with approximately 17 Veterans committing suicide each day, and on any given night, over 40,000 Veterans don’t have a place to call home in our country,” said Chris Johnson, President & CEO, Nation’s Finest. “As a nation, we can and should do better to honor those who have sacrificed and served, which is why we are launching this program to raise greater awareness and help connect Veterans to the help and services they need.”
Through Veteran’s Day, Nation’s Finest will host a series of community awareness events in California, Arizona, and Nevada, that bring together community leaders, Veterans’ advocates, and community partners to ensure Veterans and their families have access to services, programs, and the care available to them. Each event will feature a Nation’s Finest mobile service unit staffed by trained professionals to assist Veterans, as well as community partner booths to provide educational information about available services. On display will be a powerful storytelling exhibition honoring Veteran heroes for making a difference in the lives of Veterans. At each event, Nation’s Finest will present special awards to local Veterans who have gone above the call of duty to help Veterans and their families in their local communities.
During a ceremony on the west steps of the Capitol, seven local Veteran heroes from Northern California were honored for their service. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg joined Nation’s Finest to present special medallions to them for their work. A special storytelling exhibition featured their stories and that of other Veteran heroes, which will also be on display through September 30th in the window fronts of the historic Weinstocks Building in downtown Sacramento located at 1130 K Street.
“These local heroes exemplify the spirit of our community and continue to answer the call of duty in helping those who have served access mental and behavioral health care, including housing stability, employment and suicide prevention services,” said Mayor Steinberg. “I applaud the efforts of Nation’s Finest in launching this important program and so many other Veteran organizations, community partners, and advocates, who work tirelessly to ensure our Veterans can get the care they need and deserve.”
Sacramento area recipients of the Nation’s Finest 50 Local Heroes Award include Gail Belmont, Don Harper, Kia Phillips, Steve Reed, Preston Sharp, Julie Baumgarten, and Michael Harris. Their personal stories, along with all the Nation’s Finest awardees, are featured in the exhibition and on the Nation’s Finest website at www.NationsFinest.org, along with information about the Community Outreach Program.
Harris, a U.S. Army Veteran and Sacramento native credits the work of Nation’s Finest and the support he received at Mather Veterans Village for helping change his life during vulnerable times, saying, “It was a life-changing experience to be so humbled to have to ask for help with you are vulnerable and broke. They helped lift me up and gave me a chance.” Today, Michael helps other Veterans, particularly those facing homelessness. He is also Chair of the California Black Agriculture Working Group, where he is dedicated to bringing equity to Black agricultural producers.
The Nation’s Finest Community Outreach Program is funded through the support of many community partners, including Verizon (presenting partner), U.S. Veterans Affairs, Safeway, the Land of the Free Foundation, Comcast, Turton Commercial Real Estate, Enterprise Community Partners, and the Charles M. Shulz Museum, among others.
“Verizon is honored to join together with so many community partners in supporting Nation’s Finest and their mission help Veterans in need,” said Sophia Garcia, Director, External Affairs & Local Engagement at Verizon. “Verizon is committed to helping Veterans and their families with access to smart technologies that improve connectivity to the programs, services, and care available to them. It’s through community partnerships like this that we can work together to make a difference.”
This year marks 50 years since Nation’s Finest was founded to support Veterans returning from the Vietnam War by providing critical housing, health, and employment support to ensure Veterans reach their full potential. During the past five decades, the programs and impact of Nation’s Finest has continued to grow, having served 150,000+ veterans and providing $275 million in direct services in 31 locations in California, Arizona, and Nevada, as well as through national services. Additionally, through its mobile service unit program, Nation’s Finest can reach thousands more Veterans each year, who lack access to care by bringing resources directly to them, particularly those living in rural areas.