Tempe, Arizona boasts a unique housing complex for mixed income families. Called “Valor on 8th,” its 50 units were specially designed as a place for U.S. military veterans and their families to live in affordable housing in one of America’s fastest-growing urban areas.
One alumnus of Valor on 8th is Ro Gonzalez. A Marine Corps veteran, he appreciated what the city did for veterans. He spent a lot of time working for a veteran-oriented non-profit before striking out on his own. Gonzalez founded the Valors Veterans Community AZ in 2018, and has since helped 6,000 Arizona veterans.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Arizona, it hit veterans and their families in the Phoenix area hard and Gonzalez had trouble meeting the needs of his community. When he applied for an Evan Williams COVID-19 Veteran Relief Grant, Valor on 8th was ready to help.
“Our motto is connecting veterans with veterans and resources,” Gonzalez told We Are The Mighty. “That’s what we do, we connect veterans with other veterans through a lot of social events, but we also help with education, employment, homelessness and veteran transition all over Arizona.”
Gonzalez is an old-school Marine who served during the Cold War, from 1987 to 1991. His priority, in his own words, is taking care of his veteran brothers and sisters. And because he and Valors Veterans Community AZ is mostly self-funded through his day job and his morning paper route, he’s limited in what he can do.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have help at all. The people of Valor on 8th just volunteer their time and effort.
“Nobody is on payroll,” Gonzalez says. “All our funds come from in-kind donations, my credit card, wherever we can get dollars from. A hundred percent of it goes right back to the veterans.”
Through his hard work and the work of his volunteers, he’s been able to expand his operation, starting a new chapter in Tucson and looking to hire a veterans benefits navigator. His local focus and small donations make it possible for Valors Veterans Community AZ to be more responsive to the needs of veterans in Arizona.
“We’re more grassroots, more local, one-on-one, more personable,” he says. “It isn't just about clicks and donations, our thing is to get our veterans involved in the community. If we help them out, they don't have to pay us back monetarily. We prefer for you to come out and volunteer with us so you can see the impact volunteering in the community has.”
With the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the hardest-hit areas of Arizona was the veteran community in the Navajo Nation. Gonzalez and his organizations used the Evan Williams’ COVID-19 Veteran Relief Grant to come to their aid.
“They were hit hard by COVID, because they have such a large elderly population,” he says. “We hooked them up with gallons of sanitizers, along with other PPE, diapers, laundry soap, food, water, you name it. Altogether, we donated more than $10,000 worth of items.”
Veteran service organizations like Valor on 8th are supported by these grants through the American-Made Heroes Foundation Fund, established by Evan Williams in 2020. As an American-made and owned company, it’s important for Evan Williams Bourbon to give back to those who serve.
Ro Gonzalez and Valors Veterans Community AZ wants every veteran and every veteran family member to reach out when they need help. Gonzalez acknowledges his own problems as a veteran (he suffered a traumatic brain injury during service), but says that he does what he has to do to take care of it, just like any other problem.
“The number one thing is, if you're struggling, there's no shame in asking for help,” he says. “Every once in a while, no matter what you’re going through, you just need a little guidance. We’re happy to help.”