Mr. Mike Conklin and Sentinels of Freedom,
Thank you for your radical support. It gave me the confidence to get my own apartment and make plans for grad school. Sam and Havilah were very supportive. I could call or email them anytime. For every question I had, they were quick to reassure me and help me make decisions.
I really appreciate how SOF fits easily into my school schedule. Reporting monthly bills was very fast and easy. Our semiannual check-ins were very easy. Everything was so easy, I was worried at first that I wasn’t doing enough for SOF to repay all the support. I asked Sam and Havilah what more I could do. They reassured me that by focusing on my health and school, I was doing exactly what SOF expected. They really helped me relax and make the most of my time as a Sentinel. While I was a Sentinel, I also got mentoring from a financial advisor. She helped me make a plan to set up my retirement account. I have since done that and am making good progress.
The very hardest part of my transition from Army to civilian was finding housing I could afford. Before SOF, I was couch surfing and moving state to state. I had moved 11 times in 3 years since finishing the Army. Nothing was working out. My pain and stress were getting worse. And I wasn’t staying anywhere long enough to get integrated into a VA hospital to get regular treatment. But I was determined to keep going until I found a place that worked for me.
When I applied to SOF, I was 36 and living with college students in an attic space without a bed and no access to a bathroom at night. I was in a state where I knew absolutely no one. I had a modest saving but I was too afraid to spend it on better housing because my health was really bad and I couldn’t find a job that didn’t make it worse. I had just started college and I was pushing myself really hard because I had really high standards for myself. I kept expecting my health would suddenly bounce back and that I needed to plow through in the meantime. But I was getting worse. My pain was unbearable. I was trying to hide it because I didn’t know anyone in this city very well. That was the lowest point in my life. I was really scared.
When I found out about SOF, I applied right away. The application process was easy and Samantha helped me with all my questions. Before I was even accepted, I had such a good feeling about the program that I got the confidence to look for my own apartment. I found a great family with a beautiful apartment attached to their house. They invited me for Sunday dinners and movie nights, and we are still good friends. Moving here was my turning point. A month after I moved in, I was accepted for SOF. I’ve been here two years now and it has been great.
I’m really excited to move to Seattle and start graduate school for art therapy. I’ve wanted to live in WA for a long time. I want to tell a short story about the first time I went to WA. In 2015, after the Army, I was invited to house-sit in a small city. Unfortunately, it was far from the VA and I was not able to find regular transportation. I found a college I liked and bought a car. But sadly, I was unfamiliar with the winding back roads and I totaled my car just 3 days after buying it. I’m so thankful I didn’t hurt anyone or myself. That was a big wake-up call. I left WA for MN where Veterans with a service-connected injury can use public transportation for free. And their light rail system has its very own stop right at the VA. There, I became a Sentinel and finished my undergrad. Now that I have made progress in my healing and saved some money, I’m ready to try WA again. But this time I am so much more prepared. I know I’m going to do great. I worked hard in undergrad and I’ve been accepted to a nice graduate school. With help from SOF, I was able to save enough money to sign a lease in Seattle and I’m moving on September 1st! I plan to use the public bus to get to the VA. I also want to buy a bicycle since Seattle has great bike lanes, and my school is only two miles from my house. I move in a month and I’ve already started learning the bike route to school. I’m excited about all the outdoors. I have a feeling WA will be my home for a long time. I feel like I’m truly going home for the first time since I left the Army. And I know Seattle will have lots of great opportunities for my Art Therapy career. Since I’m taking my graduate program there, I will get to do my internship there which will open up lots of doors for a job in Seattle. Seattle is known for very high rent rates. This education program offers a housing allowance while I am in school. This is a great opportunity to get my foot in the door and get a great foundation in the city.
When I got my own apartment two years ago, I thought my health would bounce back right away and I would be my normal self with lots of energy. But It didn’t happen that way. The last two years have been hard. If I could go back to two years ago and give myself advice I’d say ‘It’s not going to happen overnight. Healing is a slow process. Take it easy and give yourself time’. This is a marathon, not a sprint. It has been a long, gradual process. I’m still learning how to do life differently, how to adjust to my pain, and the way life affects me now. I’ve finally realized and accepted that I will never be the same as I was before. I really needed the last two years as Sentinel to take a time out, relax, and really listen to my body. I can’t imagine how I would have made it through this process without help from SOF. I am so much better than when I started.
I’m excited about my career in Art Therapy and my new life in Washington state. I hope I get the opportunity to attend a SOF event since I will be living on the West Coast. I look forward to meeting other Sentinels and hopefully Mike, Sam, and Havilah. Thank you for everything you do for Veterans and their families.