11 December, 2006

Caring for the Wounded, part II

Besides learning a lot about combat casualty care at the Summit [start here], I did a great deal of networking and learned some things about myself. But primarily I was fascinated by the brainstorming session, and am excited about the role of non-profits in supporting the treatment and recovery of combat wounded and their families.

In the brainstorming session we were discussing the need to integrate the collective knowledge of points of contact and services available in the military system. The local admiral had dropped by and mentioned the early attempts to do that, as well as the limitations of what is available in government services. Being the fearless advocate that I am, I raised my hand: "I have a question for all of you. I've seen for myself that the non-profit world has an unbelievable amount of money, expertise, and desire to help; they just need to know where to apply it. Would it be useful to have a one-stop national charity database, a charity version of what the Admiral was talking about?"

There was an explosion of sound as many of the 150+ attendees shouted, "Yes!" with murmurs of approval rolling across the room in its wake as people turned to see who had spoken. I have to say, I don't think I've ever had quite that effect on a roomful of that many people before! I had spoken before I had time to be intimidated by the setting, but was left with a pounding heart when it was over.

Immediately after the brainstorming, we broke for discussion groups and I was one of the first people out the door (I got focused on getting to my group). Most attendees didn't hang around after that, so I didn't get the chance to talk to anybody about the database idea (however, I have some contacts I can follow up with).

The amazing thing is, I've been talking to a few people online about this very thing, but we've been at a loss for how to go about doing it. A database like we envision--searchable by keyword and zip code--would be gigantic, with intense hardware requirements. It would need a very, very good programmer to set it up, and a fulltime director to maintain relationships with the charities, and collect, verify and update information about them. It could be set up as a business enterprise, but frankly I think it would be more effective and credible as a non-profit. But since it's not a "sexy" idea, constant fundraising to support it would be problematic; basically, it needs a perpetual endowment. And that's where we again run up against our limitations. But it was very exciting to realize that there is a need for it, and that the professionals would welcome it. So I'm not giving up on the idea.

As far as the rest of the networking, it was stimulating to talk to others who are both dedicated to helping the wounded and bright, educated, idealistic, out-of-the-box thinkers. Their attitude is, "I'll do whatever I can to make sure the people I help get what they need. That's how I feel, and this is the kind of environment I would love to work in.

In general, I cut a wide swath through the event, haha! From piggy-backing on the Admiral's comment/idea to throwing around Valour-IT business cards, I think I made an impression. In the discussion session we were asked to introduce ourselves. And when I explained the Valour-IT concept there were approving smiles around the table, followed by gasps when I said we will soon have distributed 850 laptops. The head of the summit led our group, and she was taking frantic notes. She also stopped the introductions in order to question me closely about Valour-IT. I talked to everybody from the head nurse to the director of the base chaplains (who is on the CC "quality team" and asked if I'd be willing to address them), to the local VA liaison. A lot of them didn't know about Soldiers' Angels, and only one had heard about Valour-IT (I'm sure we're going to be flooded by laptop requests from this area today, haha!).

I had extended conversations with most of the people I met, and what was most amazing and gratifying was to see how we kinda "lit each other up." It was that same recognition of kindred spirits I'd experiened at the Soldier Ride event. I came out of the Summit event so "revved up." I wished, in ways so deep I can't describe, that there was a professional place for me in that kind of environment. It's thrilling and stimulating to be in the middle of such intelligence, dedication, and creative thinking put to such noble use. It was downright humbling.

On a personal level, the contrast of the Summit experience with the kinds of jobs I interviewed for and have done recently (the skill set required, etc.) couldn't be more stark. I spent last Tuesday on a one-day temp job that literally involved me sitting for minutes at a time with hands folded while I waited to be told a one-word piece of information to enter into the computer in front of me (repeat ad nauseum). That these two worlds bookended my week is almost mind-blowing. My "extra-curricular" activities border on the executive level, but my paid work history doesn't measure up (I don't have a chance for an executive job). So I apply for a secretarial job and am told I'm over-qualified, apply for a mil-related job and am told I'm just a civilian, and meanwhile keep going down a professional path that is exactly the opposite of what I'm good at and what lights my fire. I don't know the answers to this situation, but I'll always treasure days like last Friday where I know that for at least a few hours I was where I belonged.