The Independence Fund creates resilience through innovative programming
Founded in 2007, The Independence Fund has spent more than a decade keeping away from our nation’s heroes. As it approaches its 15th anniversary, the nonprofit seeks to create true resilience.
Caroline Avery joined the team in 2021 as Director of Communications. “I am one of the few civilian staff. I knew our CEO, Sarah, socially because our daughters were around the same age, for several years. Her story, which is just incredibly moving, and saw the mission of the Independence fund in real life,” she explained. “It was truly amazing to see and be part of the change that is really happening through their work.”
The organization is known for its commitment to creating empowerment programs for injured, ill, or injured American veterans. Mobility, Caregiving, Advocacy, Social Work, Resilience and Family Support programs have helped countless warriors.
Recently, they have also started to be a resource for Afghan allies.
“We are approaching the one year anniversary of the fall of Afghanistan and The Independence Fund, and in particular our CEO, Sarah Berardo, have truly been pioneers in including Afghan wartime allies in the veteran community instead to keep them very separate communities,” Avery shared. “We launched our ally program more formally where we took SIV holders, wartime allies, then combat interpreters and made sure that they were provided with financial assistance, resettlement assistance and resettlement assistance.”
Not only that, but Afghan interpreters have also been welcomed into Operation Resilience retreats. “They are really part of this military unit,” she added.
The program is near and dear to Avery, she said. In partnership with the Department of Defense, the initiative works closely with units affected by high casualty rates. There, he provides peer-to-peer mentorship opportunities through reunion retreats, creating a sense of community healing.
“After serving 20 years, they usually lost touch at some point along the way, or what seemed so exciting at first, 20 years later or 15 years after deployments, really distilled,” said said Avery. “We bring them together and go through a lot of different training sessions with them to really strengthen those bonds. The takeaway is always so profound for someone to just re-establish the connections they had, when they served, and then to see the healing that happens on a sanity level is amazing.
Through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, new programs have been created to fill the need. Some of them ended up becoming permanent fixtures in the lineup. “We started a program called Independence at Home. When we realized that people were staying home, veterans in particular, those who were closer to the poverty line, had a very difficult time. They were vulnerable to financial hardship and job loss. Many were already not working due to a disability,” she explained. “This program is about keeping their WiFi connected, giving them technology resources and making sure their phones are up to date. This turned into contactless power events in our VAs and VFWs which eventually became a permanent program because the need was so great for so many veterans.
According to a RAND study, 11% of US veterans live in food-insecure households. Further data revealed that former combatants were more than seven times more likely to experience food insecurity than the civilian population.
While much of the TIF programming focuses on targeting and addressing the serious issues facing our warriors, there is also a lot of fun mixed in.
“At the end of August there is a bear hunt in Maine that we are taking veterans to. There’s the helicopter hog hunt which is so much fun,” Avery explained. “Our program director says you’ll never see a veteran feel more like themselves than when they’re doing things like spending a day with friends at a shooting range.”
As the TIF team heads into its 15th anniversary celebration, the future of serving the Warriors of America looks bright.
To learn more about the Independence Fund, click here.