Three Rhode Island non-profits that cater to military veterans are joining forces to create the Warwick Veterans Service Organization, an advocacy group that will soon call the JONAH Community Center in Oakland Beach home.
Following a ceremony at JONAH Saturday morning at 11, the Center will be a venue for the recently established Rhode Island chapter of Women Veterans of America, the Rhode Island Military Organization (RIMO) and Warwick’s Disabled American Veterans (DAV). In addition to its normal activities and services, JONAH, which stands for Join Our Neighborhood And Help, will be a hub where vets can learn more about resources that are available to them.
“It will be a direct link and a one-stop shop for veterans for all services in the city of Warwick,” said Army veteran Timothy Howe, commander of the Warwick DAV chapter, and the junior vice under the State Command.
Howe said the Warwick Veterans Service Organization would be available to assist vets concerning a variety of issues that typically fall under each non-profit. The DAV, which focuses on servicing retired veterans with disabilities, as well as their families, highlights topics including questions about medical benefits, filing a disability claim, inquiries about the process of enrolling at the V.A., explaining the necessary steps they must take to get a loan for a V.A. house, and more.
“We can point them in the right direction and give them guidance,” said Howe, noting that each organization is providing volunteers for the services at no cost to vets.
Staff Sgt. Anthony Paolino, an active member of the Rhode Island Air National Guard and the chairman and CEO of RIMO, is thrilled of the collaboration. While RIMO has offices at CCRI Knight campus, he is pleased JONAH will be a go-to place for vets seeking all types of assistance.
“It’s always good to extend opportunities that are available to our veterans,” Paolino said. “To have one location that’s highly accessible to veterans is great. It is certainly a blessing.”
Paolino co-founded RIMO in 2010 after coming home from Afghanistan and returning to life as a college student. The organization offers assistance to military members who are interested in doing just the same. It also helps transition vets back to civilian life after serving overseas and educates them about available options for the future.
Another component of RIMO is the airport lounge created exclusively for military members and their families. The lounge is a space where they can go to access the Internet to connect with loved ones, get a snack or a cup of coffee, watch television, or just relax before or after a flight, as opposed to waiting in the terminal.
Beginning next year, RIMO will also spearhead a 22-week military academy for adverse youths aged 16 to 18. Youths will go to school during the day and do community outreach at night.
The Rhode Island chapter of Women Veterans of America, which Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson co-founded, is an advocacy group for active duty military women and female veterans. The goal of the organization is to upgrade the quality of services that these women receive and to address any quality of life issues they face.
Vella-Wilkinson thinks the Rhode Island chapter of Women Veterans of America fits nicely with RIMO and the Warwick DAV at JONAH, and she is looking forward to setting core hours that volunteers will be available for veterans.
“It won’t be open every day, but the hours will be posted soon,” said Vella-Wilkinson, who also pointed out that volunteers will be on hand to coach vets on interview skills, tips on how to create a résumé, plus ways to figure out a career track or degree program that suits them best.
The collaboration began when Howe contacted Vella-Wilkinson and expressed that it would be nice if veterans had office space in Warwick to better serve veterans. The DAV used to host events at the library, but the dates didn’t always jive. This left them searching for something more permanent to better help vets.
“We’re in the process of getting over an 11-year war, so we need to get ready for the influx of veterans – an entire generation of veterans – that are coming in,” Howe said. “All these benefits that veterans are entitled to are costing the city nothing because they are already involved with the federal government. We’re just putting all this information in one place to make it accessible for all our veterans. And we’re utilizing an underutilized building.”
In recent years, JONAH had to limit programs – and staff members – due to lack of funds. Still, local groups rent the hall for activities, meetings, fundraisers, birthday parties and other events.
When JONAH board members found out the non-profits were looking for a permanent location, they agreed their facility would be ideal.
“JONAH decided they wanted to revitalize their role in the community and they thought it would be perfect to open their doors to the veterans organizations,” said Vella-Wilkinson. “The Board of Directors of JONAH were very interested in rolling out the red carpet for the veterans.”
“The JONAH people have been absolutely wonderful,” he said.
To spruce up JONAH a bit, volunteers from each of the organizations recently painted portions of the interior. A ribbon cutting ceremony has been tentatively scheduled for June 14, which is Flag Day.
They are also asking people to donate any military memorabilia so it can be displayed in the community room. A plaque will accompany each item, recognizing the donor(s).
“It will be like a historical museum in Warwick,” said Howe.
To donate an item, call Vella-Wilkinson at 739-8804.