By James D. McDonough Jr., Managing Director, IVMF
This week at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and Camp Pendleton, the Schultz Family Foundation (SFF) and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University officially recognized the very first graduates of its Onward to Opportunity (O2O) program.
As we celebrate the accomplishments of our first graduates of the Onward to Opportunity (O2O) program, I think it’s important to try and draw upon history for some perspective on what the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University, the Schultz Family Foundation and the U.S. Department of Defense are truly attempting to do … change the trajectory of transition, something like what Zach and Elizabeth Fisher were attempting to do 25 years ago when the spouse of the Chief of Naval Operations at the time, Pauline Trost, approached them with an idea, to change the nature of temporary lodging for families at military medical facilities.
A year later, two Fisher Houses were built on the grounds of Bethesda Naval Medical Center and Walter Reed Army Medical Center where, in 2003 I visited the spouse of the young son (19 years old, Texas state champion long distance runner) of one of my Warrant Officers when I was a Battalion Commander. He had lost his leg due to a mortar attack as a young Airman at LSA Anaconda (for those of us who can remember that LSA in Iraq). The Fisher House was their ‘home’ while recovering from war’s wounds. At the time, no more than 12 military families were housed in these temporary residences, a number that might seem small for some, but very large for those impacted by the Fisher’s generosity.
The Fisher’s enjoyed steady growth – six more houses a year later, three more the year after that, etc., etc. In 1994, they opened their first house on the grounds of a VA Medical Center in Albany, New York. Since 1990, Fisher House Foundation has served more than 220,000 families and provided over 5.2 million days of lodging, saving them more than $200 million in lodging and transportation costs.
How does Fisher House’s growth and impact relate to O2O? Our collective efforts have parallels to some of the most impactful capacity serving the needs of military families today. What started small with an idea; what enjoyed slow and steady growth – quietly and with great humility; what was joined by others along the way (VA, DECA for kid’s scholarships, airlines to donate miles – their partners today), is today’s foremost efforts addressing a simple need — a place to stay and visit while our servicemembers and veterans recover. Learn more about the Fisher House Foundation.
So as our first two, albeit smaller than anticipated, classes graduated from our inaugural O2O programs this week, we should reflect upon how the Fishers did it and from where they came. I’d like to think we’re like the Fisher family … taking a simple idea, connecting folks who want to separate from military service and move into civilian jobs before they actually separate, and building the mechanism to make it happen. That’s what we’re doing; it’s the idea and dream of many others but the IVMF, the Schultz Family Foundation and our public-private partners are getting it done.
About the Author:
James D. McDonough Jr. is managing director of community engagement & innovation for the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF).
Before joining the IVMF, he served as senior fellow for veterans affairs at the New York State Health Foundation and previously as president and CEO of Veterans Outreach Center Inc., located in Rochester, N.Y. The center is the nation’s oldest community-based non-profit for veterans and military families.
Upon retirement from the Army following 26 years of service, McDonough became the director of the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs. In that role, he was responsible for addressing the needs of nearly one million veterans and their families across the state of New York.
Read Jim McDonough’s full bio.