Organizing a veterans roundtable for faith-based and other community organizations

Abstract: 

Local community and faith-based leaders can help veterans through the often-difficult transition from military to civilian life by collaborating with Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide support and employment services. This practice offers five steps to gather the community in a veterans roundtable discussion about helping local veterans make a successful transition.

Issue:

Transitioning from military to civilian life can be challenging, and the men and women in your community who have served in the military may need assistance with preparing for the job market, identifying housing, or handling legal or other issues.

Action:

Veterans roundtables bring together faith-based and community organizations with the VA to hear about the programs the VA has for veterans, their families, survivors, and caregivers. Below are the five steps to organizing a roundtable in your area.

1. Identify a location

The groups that you want to engage in this project may help to determine the location for the event. Seek to partner with faith-based institutions, colleges and universities, and social service agencies as well as the local VA Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships office. One of these groups may have a meeting room or banquet hall that can be used for the event. The size of the venue will determine the number of people you can invite.

2. Organize a planning team

  • Recruit an informed team to help plan and implement the event. A successful group effort requires a motivated team that agrees upon clearly defined tasks, sets reachable goals, and acts with inspiration and purpose.
  • Join the VA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (VAFBNP -L) list or e-mailVApartnerships@va.gov to get more information on the needs of veterans.
  • Engage the VA-FBNP representative in your community for thoughts and ideas about the roundtable; include veterans on your planning committee.
  • Brainstorm a list of potential invitees by name or by title and affiliation. For example, "Let's invite Pastor Grant and also the Imam of the mosque down the street." Be as inclusive as possible and seek out people who can help to provide the services that vets need — involve those that are currently working with vets as well as those who are not.
  • Develop a packet of information about the roundtable and its intent and share it with those you invite.
  • Decide how you will invite participants:
    • Phone calls offer a personal touch; utilize personal contacts to make calls where possible or volunteers who are part of the community groups you are inviting.
    • Give people plenty of lead time.
    • Provide a deadline for RSVPs to your invitations, so that you might reach out to others, if an invitee declines.
  • Decide on the format:
    • Engage the VA-FBNP in sharing what has worked in the past
    • You might have one large group all discussing the same topic, or several smaller groups in the same room that discuss various aspects of military to civilian transition and job preparedness that are then shared with the larger group. If one larger group, will you invite an audience of community members? This may depend on the size of your venue.
    • How long will the roundtable discussion last?
    • Regardless of format, plan to have one or more skilled facilitators.
  • Determine the desired outcome:
    • Are you trying to raise awareness about the needs of veterans?
    • Are you trying to get commitments from attendees to assist veterans with job preparedness, including resume writing, interview skills, mentoring, etc.? Identify "the asks" and realize that they might be different for different groups.
    • Consider having a pledge card with multiple asks that participants can check off and leave with their commitment, contact information, and preferred method for follow-up.
  • Promote the event among groups you hope will attend. Word of mouth and specific targeted outreach via phone calls, e-mail, or personal contact is best when seeking a targeted group. If you decide to have an audience, you may promote the event more widely.
  • Establish a registration process, so that you can ensure adequate accommodations for all who will attend, or close registration when the venue reaches capacity.
  • Secure refreshments. Your hosting partner may be able to provide refreshments or you can seek in-kind donations from local businesses. Engage community members, local organizations, and businesses in providing financial and/or in-kind support for your event or activities.
  • Acknowledge donors throughout your event. Add donor logos to the bottom of all material that you produce (such as the agenda for the day).
  • Will anyone require accommodations to participate? For example, will you need a sign language interpreter?
  • Make a site visit prior to the event with team leaders.
  • Create a set-up that will work for your desired format; create a map of the room indicating where you want tables, chairs, microphones, etc.
  • Post your project so that people in your area can join your efforts as volunteers or participants.

3. Implement the event

On the day of the event:

  • Make sure project leaders or coordinators are at the site early to review set-up and greet team members and participants as they arrive.
  • Officially welcome everyone and talk about the purpose of the event; focus on topics like learning from each other, moving toward a brighter future, and serving in honor of veterans.
  • Organize volunteers into different work teams. For example, some will be greeting and directing participants, some will be handing out refreshments, some will be responding to questions about the roundtable, and others can be sharing stories (depending on your event). Have designated seating for volunteers when they are not engaged in other activities.
  • Greeters should have photos of roundtable participants so that they will recognize them and can greet them by name. When inviting faith leaders and military personnel, remember to double check their titles and the appropriate way to address them.
  • While conducting the roundtable, make sure that participants stay focused on the outcome.
  • Make time for reflection with participants and volunteers.
  • If you used pledge cards, make sure to collect them all before participants leave.

4. Reflect and assess

After the project is completed, take some time to assess and reflect on it with your partners.

  • Host an official debrief meeting for team members after the service day.
  • Examine the goals you set and consider which were met, which were exceeded, or which weren't quite reached.
  • Whom did your work impact? What did you accomplish? What were your impressions of the day?
  • Ask everyone for their honest assessment of what went well and how to improve for next time.
  • Make a list and plan for necessary follow-up, including who will follow-up with those participants who made commitments or pledges.

5. Share your story

You can inspire others to organize an event that assists veterans once they hear what you accomplished. Share your service story.

For more information:

Related Resources: 

VA Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Citations: 

Corporation for National and Community Service. (2012). Faith and community roundtable in support of veterans. Retrieved from http://mlkday.gov/plan/actionguides/faithbased.php


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