The Creation of Shoulder to Shoulder
At Babson we often talk about Entrepreneurship of All Kinds® by which we mean that entrepreneurship doesn’t just happen in garages, or coffee shops, or even Silicon Valley board rooms. One of the most interesting forms in which we see entrepreneurship taking place is the Entrepreneur Inside – someone who is working inside an existing organization or system to create something new and different. What is so powerful about this model is that they are often able to create something that would have very little possibility of surviving out on its own; leveraging the innate resources of the parent or host entity to jump-start an idea or innovation.
The work Jamie Grossman is doing with Shoulder to Shoulder is an example of just this: A civilian organization standing “shoulder to shoulder” with our Veteran service men and women hosted inside the Jewish Family and Children’s Service (“JF&CS”). But, before we get into What Shoulder to Shoulder is, let’s talk about the Why and How.
Why: Five years ago, Jamie met her current partner who had spent 24 years in the military. She had no military experience growing up and as they started dating she was exposed to the world of military culture and the community it impacts. She was especially moved by how we treat our veterans coming home and how we really need to do a better job of supporting this community.
At the same time, she was very involved with JF&CS, having served 10 years on the board (she has now served for 15 years and is currently Vice President of the Board of Directors). Because JF&CS is a non-sectarian social services organization, there was a lot of flexibility in the communities they served. She felt that military families were in need of support and that JF&CS owed it to this community to do something. She also saw that they had the potential as an established, wide-reaching organization to actually make an impact. So, the desire was born.
How: Jamie first began by introducing JF&CS to a veteran support program educating them on the services available through JF&CS. Realizing that they did not have a social service arm, JF&CS started a partnership between the two organizations. With the two distinct service areas the partnership was really aligned and mutually beneficial. But, it still didn’t feel like enough. She kept asking, “What are we as JF&CS really doing to serve the military community?”
From this question followed a process of exploration which landed on the reality that JF&CS had in its umbrella of services a program that provided a replicable and scalable model: the Lauren & Mark Rubin Visiting Moms program. So this became the basis for what is now Shoulder to Shoulder. With the model nailed down, the work began of building support within JF&CS. In Jamie’s words: “As we presented the ideas to the Board of Directors, all of sudden people had this “aha” moment. Several board members immediately understood our concept and they formed our Advisory Board. They asked questions I hadn’t yet considered and helped me work toward solutions: how do we operationalize, secure funding, how do we scale?“ Shoulder to Shoulder was becoming a reality.
What: Shoulder to Shoulder is the only program of its kind that recruits and trains military connected volunteers (parents, spouses, siblings, relatives of those who served) to veteran families with children living at home. The volunteers come with a deep understanding of the unique challenges of military service, but they also get trained as empathetic listeners, receiving 10 hours of training with a social worker who’s military themselves. They then get matched with a family and commit to visiting 1 hour/week for a year.
The focus of their time is spent connecting with the primary care giver in the household, not necessarily the veteran. The goal is to strengthen the primary care giver, thereby strengthening the family. This includes everything from improving coping skills, reminding them of their own resiliency and helping with general feelings of optimism, to making referrals for other resources as needed. Whether its financial literacy or counseling or help with an aging parent, it can be so challenging for a family to find the time and energy to look for this outside help. Once a family is a client of Shoulder to Shoulder, they have access to the 40 programs and 90 services that JF&CS provides. This includes programs like a food pantry, emergency rent assistance, domestic violence program, a Parkinson support program, adoption resources, seniors programs, new moms program and many more.
Amplifying the impact, the volunteers themselves are also supported by their community, meeting every other week, under the direction of a Social Worker, to discuss their challenges and successes, benefiting from the wisdom and support of the group. Everybody wins with this model because the volunteers now have the support of being a part of this group and feeling stronger and more connected can bring guidance back to the families.
Like any new venture, launching Shoulder to Shoulder has not been without its challenges. At the top of the priority list for Jamie, like for so many entrepreneurs, is fundraising. They also face an interesting critical mass challenge where both a certain number of volunteers and participating families are needed to make the program work. Recruiting of volunteers specifically has been a challenge, and we’d like to put the call out to members of the Babson community and beyond: Are you military-connected? Would you like to support other military families? Volunteer with Shoulder to Shoulder and follow their work on their Facebook page.
Jamie’s journey reflects the Social Innovator Inside’s mindset, which started with who she was, what she knew, who she knew, and the resources she had at hand to begin Shoulder to Shoulder’s journey. She continues to have huge desire to see an outcome and she is building it every day.