Tuesday, February 18, 2014

And so it begins...


 And so it begins...
By Andrew Turner
18 February, 2014
The seed for this organization was planted more than a year ago when Laura Chirio called me for some advice.  A close friend of hers had a brother-in-arms commit suicide and she wanted to know what she could say to him.  I didn’t have an answer.  I didn’t know what I would say.  I didn’t know what I would want someone to say to me.  But I heard the pain in her voice, and felt the emotion she was struggling with and it affected me deeply.  I felt inspired to contact my buddies who served in Iraq with me to let them know that I cared about them, that I wouldn’t let the same thing happen to them, that I would be there for them.  My Facebook message to all of them was well received and it made me feel better.  I did my part.  And that’s where my “action” ended.  In the next year a soldier with connections to Laura’s National Guard unit committed suicide, and still I created no more “action.”  Pulling into my driveway Jan. 9th of this year, I got a call from my old platoon sergeant letting me know that one of our platoon mates had committed suicide. 

I thought back to my conversation almost a year prior with Laura.  I thought about the feeling I got to do something, not knowing what that even meant or looked like.  I thought of the message I sent to my buddies letting them know they could count on me, that I had their back.  And I thought of my lack of action in the last year.  On social media, as many of our friends remembered Zack’s life and contemplated his loss, many of them expressed their wish that they could have done something, or that something should be done to help veterans with PTSD who are suffering like Zack was.  While I agreed, it also angered me.  In my anger I knew that I could have done something.  I could have spent the last year doing something.  Instead I went about my life ignoring the fact that 22 veterans commit suicide every day.  In my anger I knew that when people said, “Somebody should do something,” I am the “somebody.”  My wife, Jamie, is the “somebody.”  Laura is the “somebody.”

We met Laura for dinner on January 17th, just days after Zack’s funeral.  Our goal was to come up with an action plan.  Together we knew that we could not afford to wait another year for the next call about a loved one lost to suicide.  We knew that no savior was riding into town to save our friends for us.  The job fell on us.  We knew we had to act.  But what that action looked like was unclear.  None of us had been a part of a non-profit or cause or whatever it was we were getting ready to be a part of.  All we had was a booth at Panera, a notebook, and more ideas flooding out of us than we could keep up with on paper.  We talked about speaking at the capital in Lansing, putting up billboards, opening up a counseling center or home, planning events, and raising money.  We talked about making resources available to not only veterans, but their family members and support systems.  We talked about crisis intervention and long term care.  We brainstormed for a couple hours before we started to realize how big the scope was of some of our ideas.  Looking at the list of ideas on paper was intimidating.  How could we hope to accomplish that?  What if we fail?  Instead, that night we decided to embrace the fear, shoot for the moon, and give it everything we have because the stakes are simply too high to fail.  That night we decided to start the Veteran’s Refuge Network.

Two weeks later, Jamie got an email late Friday night about a workshop for starting non-profits at UM-Dearborn being held the next morning.  We both felt like we were supposed to be there, and that event was our crash course introduction to starting our organization and taking the dream of the Veteran’s Refuge Network and turning it into a reality.  We left the workshop encouraged and excited, but again nervous because we were starting to realize what we were getting ourselves into. 

During this whole process we have all felt that we are doing this at the right place and time.  Things seem like they are lined up for us to do this.  The personal connections we each have, the professional connections we have, and the friends we have who share our passion are greater than they have ever been.  Yesterday, two days after we attended the non-profit workshop, we started our Facebook page.  We still aren’t “ready” but we decided that we don’t have time to wait til we were ready, and we don’t even really know what that means.  By waiting, and keeping our idea to ourselves, we wouldn't have to worry about failing because nobody would know.  Instead we decided to take a chance and put it out there, put the pressure on ourselves, and leave no choice but to succeed. 

We launched our Facebook page at 2:30pm Feb. 17th, 2014. One month to the day of when we sat at Panera and put a voice to our vision. By the time I went to bed that night, we had over 230 “likes” and our page had reached over 2,000 people.  I can’t express how grateful we are to everybody who “liked” it, shared it, commented on it, and noticed it.  It truly shows that many of you care about this issue as we do.  One of the most important things we learned at the non-profit workshop is that no matter the good intentions, nobody can do it themselves.  It takes a group of like-minded and driven people to get it done.  And getting those like-minded people in a room to talk is the next step.  Our two main goals for our first month are getting a list of resources up on our Facebook page, and having a meeting with our friends who are interested in partnering with us to establish the direction of this organization and help lay the foundation.  The resources should be up on the page as soon as we figure out the best way to do it, and the meeting is still TBD, but we will keep you all posted so you can join us.  Together we are going to bring awareness to veteran mental health and veteran suicide.  Together we are going to save lives.

Thank you for checking out the first installment of our blog, please continue to do so as we document our journey, and use it to keep everyone updated on what’s going on at Veteran’s Refuge Network.  Also, keep an eye on our Facebook page and look out for our Twitter which is coming soon!  Thanks again for helping us make a difference!!


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