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Making a real difference

Since 2018, the Veteran and Family Well-being Fund has helped organizations start up innovative programs that are helping improve the lives of Veterans across Canada.

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Shaping Purpose

New Brunswick

In 2013, Saint John business owner Lorne Brett retired. After looking for resources to help him find a new direction, he realized there was a real need in the community and, with University of New Brunswick instructor Anita Punamiya, developed a workshop called Shaping Purpose.

The workshops help participants find their strengths, passions and interests, and then help them develop a step-by-step plan to realize their ambitions.

One of their early participants was a Veteran himself, who said that Veterans would really find the workshops useful to support a successful transition to life after service.

With the help of the Veteran and Family Well-being Fund, Shaping Purpose developed a workshop series specifically tailored to Veterans and CAF members approaching release from service. Since 2018, more than 100 Veterans in New Brunswick have taken part.

Over four afternoons, participants:

  • list their experiences, skills and talents
  • describe their goals, passions, values and career ideas
  • learn about financial, geographic, medical, biological, psychological and social well-being.

With this, they map out a direction for their lives, and list concrete actions or tasks they can take to make it happen.

"Having a facilitator who had served in the military really helped," says Owen Parkhouse, Lieutenant-Commander (Retired), Veteran of the Royal Canadian Navy and current President of the Prince Edward Island branch of The Royal Canadian Legion.

For his part, Owen Parkhouse and his family set goals for life in retirement and a realistic plan to achieve them, including a plan to pay off their mortgage. "Shaping Purpose underlined the importance of leveraging other people's experiences who are going through something similar to yourself," he says.

A New Dynamic Enterprise

Alberta

Edmonton-based A New Dynamic Enterprise received two rounds of funding for its Transitions Lifeshops seminars. These seminars are specifically for women—Veterans, soon-to-release CAF members and spouses of Veterans.

Lifeshops are weekend retreats for eight to ten women at a time, led by a qualified and experienced facilitator. Over two days, the participants share their experiences, challenges, hopes, ambitions and pain.

"They bare all, telling each other secrets they've never told before, not to their spouses, sometimes not even to themselves," says Sandra Perron, a facilitator and senior partner with the organization.

She explains that the two days are packed with activities chosen by the participants: hiking, blueberry-picking, biking, or whatever they choose, as well as talking. Perron describes the Lifeshops as "emotional marathons." They cook together, eat together, play together, and even sleep together, bunkhouse-style.

"By the end, they're hugging and crying and don't want to leave," Perron says. More importantly, they have established a supportive network of friends who share their military experience in common. These groups get together again in follow-up meetings that are part of the Lifeshops, and most continue to gather regularly on their own.

Mélanie St-Jean, a Veteran of both the Army and Navy, confirms the strong bonds formed by Lifeshops participants—having taken part in one in Québec City in February 2019. "Our bond is very solid. We are still in contact and support each other, two years later. We would like to get together in-person, but that's hard now with COVID."

"It doesn't matter what you've done or what you're going through," she says. "At the end, we all learn the same thing: we have to take care of ourselves."

Facilitator and partner Sandra Perron herself is a participant of the Lifeshops. As a Captain in the Royal 22nd Regiment, the "Vandoos," she was Canada's first female infantry officer and commanded troops in Bosnia and Croatia. She attended a retreat while still serving and realized it was what her comrades needed. "It saved me," she says. "The women who participated in that retreat with me are friends to this day."

After releasing from service as a Major, Sandra Perron joined A New Dynamic Enterprise to help bring it to more Veterans. Since 2018, 150 women have participated in 10 Lifeshop retreats. The pandemic means future Lifeshops are suspended, but A New Dynamic Enterprise continues to plan and develop. Rather than continuing to rent space for retreats, the organization purchased a house in Old Chelsea, Quebec and converted it to a "pepper pod," a reference to a military manoeuvre to cover a comrade as they advance toward the enemy. The Pepper Pod is a space for Ottawa-area Lifeshops, as well as other events.

Helmets to Hardhats

Ottawa

Operating since 2012, Ottawa-based Helmets to Hardhats (H2H) has helped Veterans find training, apprenticeships and employment in the construction and maintenance industry.

The organization encourages unions to provide free training for Veterans so they can advance to the journeyman programs in their trades.

H2H received $160,000 from the Veteran and Family Well-being Fund call-out in 2019. It was able to place 104 Veterans into 99 apprenticeship programs, representing 8 out of 14 trades in nine provinces.

The organization also made 30 presentations at Second Career Awareness Networking Seminars, reached out to homeless shelters, produced seven short videos and published a bilingual information booklet.

H2H also used the funding to expand the information base on its website, with more opportunities posted by employers. Visits to the website increased by 500 percent and pages viewed by 520 percent.

Drew Semper is a Veteran who benefitted from the program. An avionics technician, he released from the 408 Tactical Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force in 2020 at the rank of sergeant. H2H connected him with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Alberta Local 424 and its apprenticeship program. After intensive training, he is now employed as a first-year apprentice electrician. He is working toward his Red Seal designation as a qualified electrician.

Success on the ground

Canadians value our Veterans and want to honour and support them—as well as their families—in making their lives after service better. Through the Veteran and Family Well-being Fund, well-meaning organizations are creating and expanding innovative projects to do just that.

Since receiving funding from the Veteran Family Well-being Fund:

  • More than 100 Veterans in New Brunswick have taken part in the Shaping Purpose workshops.
  • 150 women—either retired or still-serving—have participated in 10 Lifeshop retreats offered by A New Dynamic Enterprise.
  • 104 Veterans were placed into 99 apprenticeship programs, representing 8 out of 14 trades in nine provinces thanks to Helmets to Hardhats.

Date published: 2021-03-29

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