TPFers at Vet Connect

Connecting Veterans with Digital Navigation and Community Resources

Posted on November 18, 2022 by Kellie Alexander, TPF Fellow 2022/24
November is a busy month in a military household with celebrations of veterans, the Marine Corps birthday, and national holidays. It is only fitting that in the midst of this joy, the Digital Access for All (DA4A) Team, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation (TPF), joined Goodwill Manasota and many other partners in a resource event specifically for veterans.

After months of communicating and collaborating, the DA4A team arrived bright and early to the Goodwill Manasota Veterans Services Office to ensure we were ready to assist veterans with connectivity, digital navigation, and care. DA4A partners included Sarasota County Government, STUG, CareerSource Suncoast, Women's Resource Center, UnidosNow, Sarasota County Libraries, and of course, Goodwill Manasota Veterans Services Office.

Upon entering the doors, veterans were greeted and told about a variety of digital navigation resources available to them. From 10:00am to 3:00pm, veterans met with a Digital Navigator to discuss the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), talk with experts about tech support, receive a free computer/laptop, and request Sarasota Technology Users Group Membership. The best part – these services were provided entirely free.

Dealing with technology issues can be a burden and expensive. Through this event, veterans could arrive ready to tackle problems with digital navigation and technology experts. At one point, a foldable table was covered in pieces from a troublesome laptop keyboard, with a determined STUG representative thoroughly inspecting the internal workings. One veteran attended seeking assistance with various questions about ACP; an ask that would have cost hundreds of dollars. They received assistance free of charge from a highly trained Digital Navigator thanks to the generosity of TPF and community partners.

vet connectDuring the event, 15 veterans met with Digital Navigators, 17 veterans requested library resources, 5 veterans requested IT support, and 8 veterans requested devices (from STUG).

As a military spouse moving from MCAS Cherry Point, providing this support hit home. Being present to support veterans who have focused on putting service and sacrifice before all else is humbling and incredibly important. One veteran expressed, "When you're serving, you don't think about these things (alluding to devices and broadband connectivity); then when you return or transition out of the military, you don't know what is needed as you struggle to be compatible at work because of the barriers and gaps."

When asked about the event, TPFers and community partners stated:
Todd Hughes, Goodwill Manasota shares thoughts through a blog here: Connecting, Collaborating, & Strengthening at The Veterans Resource Fair.

Jake Strawn, Sarasota County Government: "Our team had a great time engaging with the veterans that stopped by our table. We resolved the issues except for one: The person had a laptop keyboard that was acting weird. There were several letters on the keyboard, and when used, displayed wingding characters. Gregg and Mike took the laptop apart and tried resetting the ribbon cables and software changes with drivers, but without success. The person was patient and appreciated the attempt. Another person, a veteran's widow, needed a laptop or computer. We introduced her to Mike with STUG, and he set her up with a device! Barbara Swenson from the county's library system was outstanding. She showed veterans the various applications people can use to access library services from their homes. It was a great event, and we would like to participate in future events! Thanks to the people from our team: Matt Iltis, Gregg Martin, Barbara Swenson."

Digital Navigators Brent Giangregorio with Women's Resource Center and Lucero Guzman with UnidosNow: "I loved seeing the community and local organizations rally around our veterans to support them with digital access. When I realized that our clients did not know about the services available to them and what they were eligible for, I could see how the technicalities in eligibility requirements lead people not to apply or not ask even when they may be struggling.

Something that made an impression on me during my time assisting clients was seeing firsthand the importance of making a personal connection with the client. Through casual but meaningful conversations, my fellow Digital Navigator and I found out key information about our client that changed the outcome of her appointment for the better. Her situation was very different than it was on paper, and it made all the difference in knowing how we could help. In the end, our client qualified for and could purchase a low-cost laptop that she urgently needed to advance her education and keep providing for her household."

Mike Hutchinson, STUG: "It was my privilege to meet and talk with so many great vets. It was great that STUG could provide computers to these great men and women."

Cheri Coryea, DA4A Initiative Lead: "Honoring veterans for their service by providing access to Digital Navigators, internet connectivity, devices, technology skills/support, and IT Tech assistance made this day exceptionally special."

Kiarra Louis, TPF Consultant: "The Veterans Connect event emphasized the importance and value of The Patterson Foundation's more than money approach to philanthropy. Being part of a larger effort to make veterans aware of their potential to qualify for discounted internet service through ACP and then going a step further to help them begin applying was rewarding. A $30 discount goes a long way, especially in these financially hard times. Although everyone may not have qualified, I know they benefited either from the other resources available, the tech support, or just the kindness and attentiveness shown to them, their needs, and even their families that day."

Michael Zimmerman, TPF Fellow: "At the Digital Access For All Veterans Connect event at Goodwill Manasota, TPF Fellows Rachel Hettinger and Michael Zimmerman welcomed veterans from across the region to provide them with helpful resources. Veterans arrived with various needs and were swiftly processed through a comprehensive intake to equip our partners with information to address homelessness, financial strain, digital access, and education needs. The opportunity to help those who served our country was an honor and privilege."

Rachel Hettinger, TPF Fellow: "While assisting veterans with the intake form, several had stories of being homeless or losing their house to hurricane Ian. It was a relief to have the Sarasota Housing Authority there to help them find a place to live. Seeing veterans light up with the resources there for them was incredible."

At TPF, we focus on working in systems. By connecting, collaborating, and contributing, the Suncoast region created an educational and engaging environment for veterans. The digital landscape is growing rapidly. Let's ensure that our neighbors have the three elements of digital access: connectivity, skills/support, and devices – as well as our caring hearts and hands.

Thank you to all DA4A team members who took part in planning and performing the event, including initiative lead Cheri, fellows Michael and Rachel, consultants Kiarra and Lauren, and Digital Navigator lead and consultant Maribel Martinez. Special thanks to consultant Deb Sakellarios for leading strategic event planning and partner collaboration.

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.