Mason launches Military, Veterans, and Families Initiative

Mason launches Military, Veterans, and Families Initiative Image

Dr. Keith Renshaw

 

This military initiative has been a project in the works for a while for Department Chair Dr. Kieth Renshaw. It officially launched last year, 2020, as The Military, Veterans, & Families Initiative whose mission is to: "give back to those who give to our nation by helping service members, veterans, and their families at Mason and in the broader National Capital Region through education, direct services, workforce development, and research." While this initiative came about last year as its launch date It has been in the works since 2015. An article was released on November 5th, 2020 discussing in detail the program as they were launching and hosting events for Veterans Day 2020, all week! You can view the original article here. The initiative is essentially bringing together all of the current services that Mason offers and combining it with services in the community.

 

We asked the Director for an interview and here is what he has to say about the new initiative: 

How did this come about?

"Mason historically has an incredible number of ways in which we serve the military and veteran population – supporting their education, training students to be prepared to work effectively with these populations,providing direct services, and conducting a wide range of research relevant to the health, wellbeing, and effectiveness of the military and veteran populations. Over time, we realized that, although so much was going on, the efforts were often completely disconnected, and people were often unaware of what others were doing. So the focus of MVFI is to connect these existing programs, use those connections to launch new programs, and raise the overall visibility of all that we do, so that people inside Mason and external to Mason can easily find it."

Why did you start this?

"Copying from the article above: George Mason University has a large percentage—approximately 10% self-identified—of active duty military, veterans and dependents among its student body.

To ensure these individuals and their families receive the assistance and acquire the skills they need, Mason is providing and expanding comprehensive and crucial services for this population through the newly formed Military, Veterans, & Families Initiative (MVFI).

“Members of the military—and their families—make untold sacrifices for the sake of the nation. It is our responsibility to give back to these individuals in whatever way we can,” MVFI founder and director Keith Renshaw said. “Moreover, the mission of MVFI is wholly consistent with the mission of Mason—access to excellence for all individuals, and being an R1 university that is committed to helping solve big problems.”

Do you have a personal connection to the military or veterans?

"I have never served, nor has anyone in my immediate family. When I started as an Assistant Professor at the University of Utah, it was 2005. Deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan were at their height, and I wanted to do something to contribute to those who were shouldering that burden. I considered donating therapy through “Give An Hour,” but that felt too transient to me. I wanted to do something that would be more sustained over time. That’s when I decided to pivot my research program to evaluate the ways in which deployment, stress, and trauma-impacted military and veteran couples and families. I was fortunate to make connections with people in the Utah National Guard who supported my ideas and work, and that has led to an entire research program focused on better understanding the functioning of military and veteran families."

What services do you provide?

"MVFI itself mostly focuses on bringing together services that others at Mason provide (many of which are listed here: https://mvfi.gmu.edu/services/. Within these, three of Mason’s key services are: (1) therapy and assessment for service members, veterans, and families at the Center for Psychological Services, (2) pro bono legal services for veterans at the M-VETS Legal Clinic, and (3) free arts workshops through the Veterans and the Arts Initiative. Of note, the Center for Psychological Services also has a fund that support free or low-cost services for service members and veterans, the Jennifer DiMauro Honor Fund (https://clinical.gmu.edu/remembering-dr-jennifer-dimauro).

However, in our first year this past year, we did start up two separate virtual programming series – Military Mondays was a series put on by MVFI and Mason’s Alumni Association, focused mostly on career transition for veterans and health and wellness for service members, veterans, and families. Veterans Lived Experience was a series put on by MVFI and an outside nonprofit, the Veterans Health and Wellness foundation, which focused on highlighting the voices of service members, veterans, and families who have struggled with different types of mental illness or homelessness, together with experts who could offer suggestions and resources to the audience. Several of those were recorded and can be accessed here: https://mvfi.gmu.edu/recorded-events/."

What’s the scope of what you’re doing and what are the goals of the program?

"This is a university-wide initiative that aims to leverage Mason’s strengths as the largest, most diverse public research university in the region to meet the needs of service members, veterans, and their families here at Mason, in the National Capital Region, and beyond. The goals are to better connect existing programs at Mason, support the creation of new efforts to serve this population, and raise the visibility of all that we do to people within Mason and outside Mason. We are also serving as a “one-stop shop” for anyone who is military-connected to find what they might need at Mason."

Do you have any groups you’re partnering with?

"We have formed several partnerships with outside groups to date, most notably Virginia’s Department of Veteran Services (https://www.dvs.virginia.gov/), Hope for the Warriors (https://www.hopeforthewarriors.org/), Veterans Health and Wellness Foundation (https://myvhwf.org/), Serving Together (https://servingtogetherproject.org/), NOVA Veterans Association (https://www.novavets.org/), Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce (https://novachamber.org/), and Prince William Chamber of Commerce (https://pwchamber.org/)."

How can students get involved?

"Students can view the range of programs and services at the website (https://mvfi.gmu.edu/), and reach out to programs directly, or contact MVFI through our online contact form (https://mvfi.gmu.edu/contact-us/). They can also sign up for our listserv to hear more about what we do: https://mvfi.gmu.edu/newsletter-signup-form."

How can veterans take part in the services?

The best way to find out about services is to view them on the website. Our overview of services for any service member, veteran, or family member (does not require an affiliation with Mason to use these) is here: https://mvfi.gmu.edu/services/. Our overview of education supports and services that are limited to those who are students at Mason is here: https://mvfi.gmu.edu/education/.

Do you have any advice for people who want to get involved?

I would say sign up for our listserv (https://mvfi.gmu.edu/newsletter-signup-form) – we don’t send a lot of email, so it’s low-traffic, but it’s a great way to hear about what we do. There probably won’t be much this summer, but there will be more as we approach fall. Or, check out all that we do at the website (https://mvfi.gmu.edu/), and reach out to programs directly. People can also contact MVFI to ask how to get involved through our online contact form (https://mvfi.gmu.edu/contact-us/).