Riviera Preparatory School senior, Jenna Weber, sheds light on herself-started non-profit that provides basic needs to our most vulnerable veterans.
When Jenna’s mother came to the US from Ecuador, she was one of nine siblings. One brother, Jenna’s uncle, joined the US armed forces as a young adult and served this country for 25 years in combat. He, like many soldiers, emerged with severe PTSD, including substance abuse, anxiety and depression. The domino effect, so to speak, was substantial. Every member of Jenna’s family felt the strain. When Jenna was 13, her family let her in on some of the more private details about her uncle, and a metaphoric fire was lit. “I wanted to get involved somehow, but I quickly found that there weren’t many ways a 13-year-old was allowed to help with veterans,” remembers Jenna. She applied to work at the Miami VA (Veterans Affairs) Hospital, and after years of denials, she eventually was granted a summertime volunteer role. “I felt connected to my uncle through the process,” says Jenna. “I had never been able to spend time like that with him, so it felt like I was able to finally give back in some way.”
Backpack to Basics
Initially Jenna wanted to work directly with veterans with PTSD, but after speaking with a judge, she realized that being a minor would make it nearly impossible. She shifted her sights to indirect involvement, specifically to homeless veterans. “I would see countless homeless veterans on the street and outside the hospital on a daily basis, and the idea for her backpacks was born,” Jenna explains. After initially collecting materials, she would later present the idea to her NHS group at school, who adopted the project wholeheartedly. “I provided the backpacks, but everyone brought materials or donations,” says Jenna. Domino Effect for Vets raised funds, garnered donations and organized water bottles, socks, body soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, lip balm, shaving cream, razors, deodorant, and logo-printed tshirts.
After creating these backpacks, Jenna only later realized that distributing them was an entirely different hurdle. Because the VA is a government agency, the red tape was seemingly endless. For months, she jumped through hoops trying to find the right organization to partner with her for distribution. Finally, Jacqueline Gordon and Mernie Williams with the Hospital Voluntary Services department gave her the green light. “I started sobbing, I was just so happy to finally have a way to get my passion project out there,” she says.
People have come from NHS, local high schools and even Jenna’s personal and charitable instagram accounts to help out. Domino Effects for Vets is always looking for volunteers to help gather, organize and distribute the packs. Jenna has her sights set on Medicine in Vanderbilt after graduation, but hopes this project can help spread the steadfast optimism for areas of great need like this worthy cause.
Domino Effect for Vets can be found @dominoeffectforvets or through the VA Hospital in Miami.