In late November of last year, I received an invitation from Eric Gage of Student Veterans of America, to apply for the 2017-2018 Newman’s Own Foundation Fellowship. To be completely honest with you, I felt that my chances of becoming a part of the 2017-2018 cohort were slim to none, but I am a firm believer in luck, all thanks to Paul Newman. I took a chance, and I am extremely glad that I did.
Even though I felt sufficiently prepared for my transition out of college, disembarking my home state, my family, and the network I built, was not easy. The warm and welcoming staff at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) alleviated many of the initial concerns I had about moving from Alaska to Syracuse. They gave me advice on ideal places to live, and activities to get involved with, which made the transition that much easier.
Many of my mentors have asked me “Why IVMF” to which my reply is “It’s about the mission, In Service to Those Who Serve”. Every day it is about veterans and military families, and that commitment to service is my fuel. I am excited to see the impact that IVMF and Syracuse University has on veterans, this coming Veterans Day, it will be a remarkable experience for me.
My role as a program assistant at IVMF has already given me a great opportunity to participate in the delivery of a myriad of programs serving military veterans and family members. My duties span from research, project planning, recruiting, and positively interacting with veterans and military family members participating in IVMF programs. So far, my duties have taken me to Fort Drum, New York, Louisville, Kentucky, Norfolk, Virginia, Chicago, Illinois, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Washington D.C. The list is still growing.
So far my favorite moment as an NOF Fellow was attending an event honoring Senators Robert and Elizabeth Dole in the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. It was truly one of the most impactful moments for me, as I was able to see Newman’s Own Foundation’s impact on veterans and military families all over the nation. It was empowering for me as a service member, to know that Newman’s Own Foundation is committed to being in service to those who serve; since 2010 Newman’s Own Foundation has donated $18.6 million to assist those who serve and their families.
I have seen the invigorating power of entrepreneurship shape, energize and empower veterans and military spouses alike. I have seen the intrinsically motivating sparkle in the eye of a veteran who dealt with uncertainty, fear and doubt restored with purpose, belonging and community. These experiences alone have changed my life.
This year is a defining moment in my life, a year of extreme mentorship, extreme learning, and most importantly, extreme service. I think I have found the perfect place to escape mediocrity, extend myself as a human being, and ultimately dive deep into my passion, which is being in service to my country. If the goal of the Newman’s Own Foundation Fellowship is for me to discover what I am meant to do with my life, I have met that goal.
James Gilchrest – NOF Fellow at Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), Syracuse, NY.