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Shoulder to Shoulder

Brandeis University

Shoulder to Shoulder Logo

Program Website
Year:
2018
State:
Massachusetts
Winner Status:
Applicant
Program Type:
Counseling and Support
Target Population:
Individuals who are Veterans
Setting:
Home

Program Description

Members of the U.S. Armed Forces and veterans often are affected by psychological injuries associated with combat exposure and traumatic stress, especially those returning from conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Shoulder to Shoulder (S2S) is an in-home program that connects volunteers to current and past military and their families who are coping with challenges of deployment and re-integration into their communities. Military-connected volunteers visit families in their homes and offer vital support and linkages to additional resources. Volunteers bring their unique perspective as members of the military community who understand the pressures of military family life. S2S is the only program in Massachusetts that provides free extended home visits to any military, regardless of their discharge status (that can prohibit veterans from accessing VA services). S2S connects families to resources including housing, employment, health care, education, veteran benefits, and clinical treatment. S2S offers two additional components. The program staffs call-in referral center for veterans who do not need home visits and are looking for services. A third component addresses the isolation military experience in their home communities. Three times a year, S2S hosts free events for military and veteran families to give them the opportunity to connect with other families.

Creativity

1) Because S2S is embedded in a larger multi-service organization, a “warm hand-off” to clinical resources are accomplished. S2S also partners with the wider military and veteran community to refer to formal and informal supports. For many S2S families, the immediate access to services has been critical to reducing stress. 2) Volunteers know the military system and the unique stressors in multiple deployments and moves. They know the importance of resiliency and receive extensive training in strength-based care. Many volunteers find their engagement with the family offers them an opportunity to give back. 3) S2S has added services to meet the needs of its target population. The community engagement activities help reduce feelings of isolation and have been highly successful. Because of S2S, programs in JF&CS now ask about “veteran status” in all its programs as a way to document needs and geographic areas where veterans live and work.

Leadership

1) Two staff attend the Greater Boston Veterans Collaborative, a network of service agencies. This forum offers opportunities to identify needs for the population and to foster collaborations. 2) S2S received a grant (with Brandeis University) to collaborate with researchers in Israel around resiliency training. Site visits to military support programs in Israel provided S2S staff with new tools to address post -traumatic stress. This work with Israeli researchers coincided with developing an evaluation tool for S2S to measure outcomes. This was part of the broader JF&CS strategy to collect data on outcome and process measures to inform continuous quality improvement. Importantly, this data is also requested by government and private funders that want to know if the intervention works. 3) Fundraising introduces corporate sponsors to needs of the military community and raise awareness about the importance of preventative interventions. 4) S2S presented at American Public Health Association convention 2016.

Sustainability

S2S was developed under the auspices of JF&CS and received funding for implementation to allow sufficient time to demonstrate feasibility. Private fundraising and grants have supported S2S since then. For practical and programmatic purposes S2S remains as program in JF&CS. S2S is the first program established specifically for the military in the 150 year old agency and has become the center of care for this population. Currently, S2S has 80 donors including 13 corporate sponsors and 3 foundations. One of the larger clinical programs that serve veterans in the greater Boston area refers families to S2S for continued care. This has been a critical partnership as no one else in the area provides family centered care in the home.

Replicability

Since drop-out rates are high in treatment programs, the relationships established between the family and volunteer aid in continuity of care when families need community based services, such as housing, employment, and clinical treatment. Peer to peer models of intervention have proof of concept both in the behavioral health and educational fields and are relatively inexpensive to implement. Key to replicability of this model is the low overhead. Currently S2S is staffed by a senior Social Worker and two additional part time social workers who train and supervise the volunteers. Although S2S is a program in a larger agency, the model also can be implemented as a stand-alone program. Benefits of being in a multi-service agency include immediate referral networks, access to established donors, low overhead facility and administrative costs. Stand alone program would benefit from creating its own distinctive identity outside a social service organization.

Results/Outcomes

This year S2S trained of ten new volunteers for the home visitation program, including four in Central MA and six in the Greater Boston area. To date approximately 350 individuals and families have been impacted by S2S through home visitation, family events and connection to resources. There has been record breaking attendance at the family apple picking event at Shelburne Farm in Stow MA, as well as the success of the baseball game and BBQ with the Lowell Spinners The first ever events in the Worcester area, included a winter family skating night and summer baseball game with the Worcester Bravehearts. As the program has become more established, recruiting volunteers is easier. This has been a core outcome because without the volunteers, the home visitation would not succeed. Clearly, this is not the best kept secret anymore.