As late as 2013, some of Western New York’s veterans were still slipping through the cracks of the VA system. To address the issue, the Western New York Veterans Housing Coalition and Goodwill of Western New York teamed up to help those who were continually underserved.
The two organizations created the Veterans One-Stop Center of Western New York, a place any veteran can go find answers to any question along with comprehensive solutions to the unique problems veterans face in civilian life.
Those problems were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn caused by restrictions put in place to limit the spread of the virus. These issues hit veteran service organizations hard, and the people they serve struggled harder as a result. Veterans One-Stop Center of WNY applied for the Evan Williams COVID-19 Veteran Relief Grant, which made it possible for the nonprofit to more effectively meet the overwhelming need for support in the area.
“Even with the VA having a strong presence in the area, there were still some gaps in services and a lack of coordination with those services,” says Katherine Zunner, Chief Development Officer of Veterans One-Stop Center. “Even if a veteran didn’t serve during war time, we can assist anybody.”
Zunner comes from a family of military veterans. One grandfather was a World War II-era Marine. Her other grandfather served in the Army during the same war. Her brother is a Navy veteran, so the military-veteran community is an especially important community for her.
Without Veterans One-Stop’s assistance, that community’s need goes unanswered. During the pandemic, areas where veterans were hardest-hit included education, employment, and housing. Those needs are supposed to be addressed before the veteran needs critical services — but when that doesn’t happen, organizations like Veterans One-Stop Center of NWY intervene.
With 95,000 veterans in Western New York, Zunner says around 10-40% are in need of critical services, with many unaware of the benefits for which they are qualified. When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in the United States, Veterans One-Stop saw a large uptick in urgent requests for those critical services — but the group needed help meeting the demand.
Zunner applied for the Evan Williams’ COVID-19 Veteran Relief Grant, made possible by the American-Made Heroes Foundation Fund, established by Evan Williams in 2020 as part of their ongoing commitment to improve the lives of veterans. As an American-made and owned company, it’s important for Evan Williams Bourbon to give back to those who serve.
The grant they received funded Veterans One-Stop Center’s core services: case navigation and peer support.
“We were excited to try for something new because we usually don’t stray too far out of the area when we look for funding,” says Zunner. “Our services, though very needed, aren’t very ‘sexy,’ so it can be a hard sell. But we also have a lot of success stories.”
The Veterans One-Stop Center of WNY works because counselors sit down with individual veterans and plot a course with them, one-on-one. They map out the veteran’s basic and most critical needs, then connect them with the resources they need to get there.
Thanks to the Evan Williams’ COVID-19 Veteran Relief Grant, Veterans One-Stop Center closed for just one week, to clean and sanitize their offices. They were right back to helping veterans the week after. Now, they’re even looking to expand the number of counselors available to veterans.
“It takes a full community to successfully do the work that we are doing,” Zunner said of being selected for the grant. “Anytime we can spread our message is very exciting and to be selected on a national level, I always get very excited about that.”