Most people have switched jobs at least once, but transitioning out of the military is an experience most civilians can’t fully understand. To soften the transition, many veteran-run organizations step in to make the process easier. Here are three organizations that epitomize comradeship.
VETERANS TO FARMERS, DENVER
The nonprofit Veterans to Farmers grows more than plants. The Denver-based organization uses agriculture to help vets reintegrate into civilian life, one lettuce patch at a time. They offer eight-to-10-week training programs in hydroponics, aquaponics and in-soil farming at no cost to veterans who apply — some may even qualify for a stipend.
“We have every background of veteran,” says Rich Murphy, co-founder and executive director. “Some want to grow food for family, some want to learn about agriculture, and some show up for no reason.”
In 2013, Murphy, a third-generation U.S. Air Force veteran who had served in Security Forces for five years, was building a career as a social worker in Denver. There, he met Buck Adams, a former Marine, who had the idea to hire vets to work at his greenhouse. With interest in urban farming and homesteading, Murphy didn’t hesitate to shift gears, and he and Adams co-founded Veterans to Farmers. “We knew that combining veterans and farming could have huge positive impacts for both communities,” he says.
The positive effects of getting one’s hands dirty are real. Take Eli, who served in both the Army and the Marines before being dishonorably discharged after a mental breakdown. Because of his mental and physical disabilities, he was struggling to adjust to civilian life. He heard about the program online and drove from Kentucky to Colorado.
“He was dealing with PTSD and there was an individual war inside him,” says Murphy. After completing two courses, Eli enrolled in college and was able to have his dishonorable discharge adjusted into an honorable one. He still gardens and now owns five acres.
“It takes energy to go after what you need,” adds Murphy. “We have to get these people engaged, to hang out in the field, planting, reintegrating.”
Five years and more than 100 veteran-graduates later, the organization isn’t slowing down. It is currently building another 3,000-square-foot greenhouse in Fort Collins, Colorado, and launching a homesteading course that will include beekeeping as well as chicken and hog care.
HOMEFRONT ROOM REVIVAL, GOLDSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA
Hardships in the military are not just for the enlisted. While life in the armed forces is marked by a nomadic nature, spouses and families can have a hard time settling into their communities. To combat that sense of isolation, Homefront Room Revival aims to boost morale through purposeful custom home projects across North Carolina.
“People think that you’re always going to move out,” says founder and executive director Katelyn Tinsley. “So you never really move in.” Homefront Room Revival wants to change that by helping military families find a comfort in the “chaos of military life.”
Tinsley knows what it’s like to feel lonely and unenthused about her home. After almost five years as a mental health tech for the Air Force, she found out that she was pregnant with a second child shortly after her husband was deployed.
“Chasing my 1-year-old and coming home to an empty house gave me anxiety,” she says. She started decorating to make herself feel better — transforming her space into a home filled with thrift-store pieces and flea market finds — which helped her get her bearings during a tough time.
This gave her an idea: bring joy to others, one redecorated room at a time. Tinsley started picking up home décor projects for friends, and eventually launched Homefront Room Revival in 2016. The program relies on volunteers — currently that includes more than 200 service members and spouses — as well partnerships with Habitat for Humanity and the local arts council.
Not only does the organization help families settle into their homes, but it provides a creative outlet for its volunteers and upcycles furniture that would have otherwise gone to waste.
Last December, Homefront Room Revival launched Dec’ the Deployment, focusing on holiday decorations. The team spruced up eight homes, including one with a newborn whose mom “just didn’t have the energy” to put up a tree because her husband was deployed.
Tinsley sees the project as an important way to support military families. “It’s a unique way to get people involved and have that personal connection of [having] outreached to those who wouldn’t be touched otherwise.”
GREEN EXTREME HOMES CDC, GARLAND, TEXAS
A house is something many of us often take for granted, but for veterans, homes play an important role in their integration back to civilian life. Veteran homelessness is a serious problem. The National Alliance to End Homelessness finds that there are more than 40,000 homeless veterans — almost 10 percent of all homeless adults.
Green Extreme Homes CDC in Garland, Texas, is a nonprofit providing homes that are discounted as much as 50 percent to veterans and their families, and the homes themselves are anything but ordinary. The concept is simple: take old, drafty houses and completely gut them into not merely energy-efficient homes, but into Zero Energy Ready Homes — a Department of Energy program that applies rigorous coding standards to new homes, with the requirement that they’re at least 40–50 percent more energy efficient than a typical new home.
“We are way above current codes and next current codes,” says Steve Brown, builder and president of Green Extreme Homes CDC, adding that their construction standards are more aligned to home guidelines for the year 2030. Each house they remodel features optimized plumbing, solar power hookups, efficient insulation and Energy Star appliances, which can translate into utility bills of around $2 dollars a day.
To create these eco-centric and affordable homes, Green Extreme Homes CDC teams up with volunteers from local veteran coalitions and corporate initiatives, including Citi, which has collaborated with the nonprofit since 2011.
The team is currently working on a seven-bedroom group home in Lewisville, Texas, for women veterans with or without children.
“Right now, there are 97 women veterans living in Dallas-area shelters,” says Jean Brown, executive director of Green Extreme Homes CDC, whose family boasts four generations of veterans. “We can take in 15 to 20 female vets and provide them a home and a nurturing environment. There is no time limit for how long they can stay [in order] to get back on their feet.”
The group home, which will have a hydroponics system to help the women grow their own food, is in early development. As the project progresses, the team, including a small army of Citi volunteers, will work together on everything from landscaping to furniture assembly in preparation for the grand finale next spring.
“It starts with housing,” Brown says. “Once you have a roof over your head you can find employment and mentoring.”