For decades, the NFL has had a strong bond with the military. That relationship stretches far beyond the pregame and halftime ceremonies that honor veterans, and particularly ratchets up in November with the league's Salute To Service.
This year, the NFL and the Bob Woodruff Foundation have partnered to find and grant funds to organizations helping former military members. So far, 38 organizations have received grants, some in the spring and others this fall.
"One of the things we have come across are just an unbelievable amount of nonprofit organizations working to support the veteran and military community," says Anna Isaacson, the NFL's senior vice president of social responsibility. "There are some reports of 40,000 such organizations.
"We hear from these organizations and we want to help every one we can, but that is sometimes difficult. The commissioner had a relationship with the Bob Woodruff Foundation and learned about the process they go through to determine which organizations should receive grants, and that there could be an awesome partnership as a grant referral pipeline. They can take our salute dollars and put them to use with the organizations doing the most impactful work in this landscape."
The Woodruff Foundation was founded in 2006 after reporter Woodruff was hit by a roadside bomb while covering the war in Iraq. Its $2 million affiliation with the NFL bolsters the grant work done by the foundation.
"We have now been through ... basically a whole year of granting with the NFL," says Dr. Margaret Harrell, the director of programs and partnerships for BWF. "The Woodruff Foundation brings our expertise to help the NFL select the most effective and important programs that are serving the post-911 veteran population. It's a really nice partnership to ensure an increasing number of veterans benefit around the country.
"There hasn't been a huge learning curve because it's been such a delightfully smooth partnership; we have a shared interest."
Adds Isaacson: "This came together in our world somewhat quickly. There already are (22) organizations receiving a grant from the NFL and BWF, and some organizations we may not have partnered with have had the opportunity to engage in a partnership."
One of those groups is the Furniture Bank of Atlanta, a relatively small local company with a full-time staff of 11 that received a grant in October. Furniture Bank serves about 40 families a week, providing furniture to veterans and others who had been homeless and have now found a place to live. A bed for each person, plus tables, chairs, a sofa, a dresser - as many as 14 pieces, mostly used, that have been donated to the company - are supplied.
But the group takes it several steps further for those vets. It puts them to work .
Some of the former military members become interns and load and unload Furniture Bank trucks. Others who show the initiative and know-how can become drivers, which allows the bank to increase its delivery schedules.
"Before we had the program, we had the idea to start an internship for someone who is homeless, help them to get a license (to drive a box truck)," says Megan Anderson, executive director of Furniture Bank of Atlanta. "We realized in 2014 we could expand that and the internship was a good fit with our warehouse and trucks. We had United Way seed money, and could take on 10 to 12 veterans who had to be homeless or just moving into housing.
"They work on our trucks for eight weeks, get a small stipend ... and then can go the warehouse route and get certified or get their license to drive the trucks."
Anderson stresses that the folks they are helping are motivated to help themselves . After all, they served in the military, where motivation is a given stimulus.
"One thing we noticed, more recently out of the military members especially, is they are hard working, punctual, and have a strong appreciation for teamwork," she says. "A lot of teamwork is involved here. They certainly can work as a unit. We also found multiple veterans have that camaraderie and help encourage each other.
"Maybe someone is homeless and another veteran just got an apartment, and another has a job. If someone has been homeless a while, they are pretty hopeless to some extent. Maybe they have bad luck with employment or have not been treated well, and they lose trust. It helps to see others who have succeeded."
Anderson is certain the affiliation between the NFL and BWF has helped her group and will help others who apply for the grants. She emphasizes how easy the application process is on the NFL or BWF website, as does Harrell.
"From our perspective, the partnership between the Bob Woodruff Foundation and the NFL made applying to the foundation and getting the grant seem more accessible for a local and small organization," Anderson says. "That is how we learned about this opportunity and it seemed more feasible, and it was OK that we were just working in Atlanta, which I thought was cool."
Harrell notes that the public could get the wrong impression that all veterans are struggling when they make the transition from the military; that's far from accurate. But the work done by Furniture Bank of Atlanta is essential.
"The group Furniture Bank is serving is a group that has considerable challenges in their post-military lives," she explains. "The organization gives these individuals the benefit of the doubt and works with them on an individual basis, provides them with credentials for the future, and keeps them on board long enough for Furniture Bank to vouch for them as an employee."
She offers a reminder to those groups that have applied but not received NFL/BWF grants that they won't be forgotten. Of the roughly 200 that BWF expects will submit a proposal, the foundation requests a further proposal from around 30 to 40 submissions, although it will engage in feedback with all 200.
"There is no set number of grants or a set grant amount," she says. "It depends on the need and scope of the program and the level we can handle. Of the 200 proposals we receive, we probably wind up granting to only a small portion, but we re-engage with them to explain where their proposal did not meet what we were seeking.
"I am very confident, given our expertise from the foundation, that the money goes to the best organizations and we are excited to see especially local small programs that we were not familiar with being recognized."
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