Over fruit, pastries and coffee, United Way of Miami-Dade brought community leaders and military veterans together at its headquarters Tuesday morning to launch United Way Mission United, the organization’s newest program.
“We’re finally official, and it’s a wonderful feeling,” said Brian Lynch, the Mission United director, smiling as a crowd of about 60 community leaders, active military members and veterans applauded.
The program, designed to help veterans adjust to civilian life, pairs veterans with a case manager to help design a plan to ease transition. Case managers will check up on the veterans and help them with any employment, educational or financial assistance needed.
Retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, a former commander of U.S. Southern Command, and other members of the Mission United Advisory Council began developing the program nearly two years ago in partnership with United Way of Miami-Dade to help more than 62,000 veterans in Miami-Dade County. The program is modeled after the original Mission United program started by United Way of Broward County three years ago.
“We’re so happy,” said Kathleen Cannon, president and CEO of United Way of Broward County. “Think of what we can do as a community to help veterans in South Florida successfully re-acclimate to civilian life.”
She said members of her program have been heavily involved in the training and development of the Miami-Dade program.
“Miami-Dade and Broward are such great partners,” Cannon said. “This makes such sense for them to pick it up and for us to do it together.”
The program began helping veterans in June, with more than 30 veterans already involved. Upcoming programs include Warrior Wednesday discussion sessions at the United Way headquarters, gift basket deliveries, and a gathering to watch the Army-Navy football game in the fall.
“We want (veterans) to be active, involved, engaged members of our community,” Fraser told the crowd, describing the program as a chance to embrace veterans after their service ends.
Franck Kouadje, 30, was the first veteran to seek help from the program two months ago after a car accident. With bills and an eviction notice, the Army Reserve specialist turned to Mission United for help.
The program paid his rent and has kept in touch with him ever since.
“They call me all the time to make sure I’m fine,” said Kouadje, who is working to complete a mathematics degree at Miami Dade College.
“Right now, I’m working with them to get my life back on track.”
Kouadje, who shared his story during the breakfast, said the program will provide important support for other veterans.
“That’s the support I needed,” he told the crowd. “Now I feel safe.”
For Fraser, Kouadje’s story is a powerful example of what Mission United can accomplish.
“It captured my heart,” he said after the breakfast. “It showed me that the idea and the opportunities here have already been successful.”