Air Force veteran Jerrica Barksdale had just left a difficult relationship, was trying to get back on her feet, and was looking for employment when she reached out to the Foundation for Women Warriors for help with her rent and her young daughter’s childcare bills. Now she’s working full-time and, master’s degree in hand, works as a capital contracting consultant for a global medical equipment supplier. “They had a significant impact on my life,” Barksdale said of the Foundation for Women Warriors. “They illustrate that if you have faith, you will get by, that there are people who wear capes in human form, and I’m just grateful that there is an organization like that looking out for female veterans helping you do what you need to do to get back on your feet.”
Today, the Foundation for Women Warriors – which has an office in Carlsbad and is experiencing an unprecedented demand on its services during the COVID-19 pandemic – has been getting a little help of its own in the form of a $25,000 grant from the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund. The fund is administered by The San Diego Foundation and has distributed more than $24 million in grants to nonprofits throughout the region since the coronavirus crisis began. Nationwide, more than 575 community foundations in all 50 states have created relief funds to support those affected by COVID-19, raising over one billion for pandemic response.
The Foundation for Women Warriors is using its grant to serve dozens of women veterans and their children who have turned to the group’s Emergency Services Program for help covering the cost of everything from the rent to car repair bills. More than 200 female veterans in all have turned to the Foundation for Women Veterans for its services during the pandemic, including those utilizing the nonprofit’s webinars on financial planning, managing anxiety, career skills training, and organizing important documents such as living trusts.
“Women historically have been overshadowed and underserved among our veteran population,” said Foundation for Women Warriors CEO Jodie Grenier, a Marine Corps veteran who worked as an intelligence analyst and was twice deployed to Iraq. “These women who have served their country are ready, willing, and able to serve their communities. It’s really a missed opportunity if we don’t invest in this population as they transition into civilian life.”
Indeed, Women are the fastest growing segment of the homeless veteran population and an estimated 60% of women veterans in California face some form of housing insecurity. Female veterans also suffer higher unemployment and poverty rates than their male counterparts, yet they are less likely to have a support network. Foundation for Women Warriors addresses the top four needs that women veterans have identified as crucial to the success of their transition: education, employment, housing and childcare.
Kelly Walls is among those who have been assisted by the nonprofit. A former Marine Corps intelligence analyst who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Walls began her transition to civilian life in San Diego with long days training to become a dental assistant and then a dental hygienist. Those long days, however, meant no work and an inability to cover the childcare payments for her then 6-year-old daughter. Foundation for Women Warriors covered several months of childcare payments for her then 6-year-old daughter. Two years later, when the coronavirus pandemic led to her furlough as a dental hygienist, Foundation for Women Warriors reached out immediately to see if she had been impacted and whether she needed help paying the rent or buying groceries.
“What they are doing is so beneficial to the female veteran community,” Halls said. “I’ve made some really good friends through the organization. Just having other female veteran voices to hear from is reassuring and builds a sense of community. It’s a struggle during the transition phase when you are no longer putting on that uniform and part of your identity is taken away.”
Grenier can relate. She went from providing Intelligence briefings in 1st Marine Division to Gen. James Mattis and other top commanders to working as a bartender and waitress after five years with the Marines. She eventually worked as an instructor and consultant for a number of military-affiliated companies, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in nonprofit leadership and management from University of San Diego along the way, before arriving at the Foundation for Women Warriors four years ago.
Now she’s making a difference in the lives of women who, like her, served their country.