Our Celebration of Service

Posted June 21, 2013

By: Barbara Van Dahlen, Ph.D.

Give an Hour recently held a two-day Celebration of Service in New York City. This gathering brought together our friends and partners from Got Your 6 as well as representatives from the military, other nonprofits, government, and corporate communities to honor, educate, and inspire. We held four events over two days. By the end we were exhausted but exhilarated.

Our Celebration began with a very special signing ceremony with the Army National Guard. Give an Hour now has a Memorandum of Understanding with the ANG, the focus of which is to expand mental health services available to the men, women, and families of the Guard. Several dignitaries from the military attended the event marking this agreement. General Ingram, Director of the ANG, and General Horoho, the first woman and first nurse to hold the position of Surgeon General of the Army, both spoke. Both took time away from their extremely busy lives to share their perspective and vision. Their remarks were heartfelt and enthusiastic—both speakers underscored the importance of collaboration.

Bruce Cohen, the Academy Award–winning producer (American Beauty) who was also nominated for his most recent film, Silver Linings Playbook, also spoke. Bruce, who has been helpful to many of us involved in Got Your 6, explained how he came to be the entertainment liaison for the White House’s Joining Forces Initiative and how he helped to create and nurture the Got Your 6 campaign. He spoke about how he and I met and became friends because of our shared interest in supporting those who serve and their families. Although Bruce doesn’t come from a military family, he knew that his voice could make a difference.

And then Don Weber, CEO of Logistics Health, spoke. And just as he did a year ago at our Celebration of Service event in Washington D.C., Don gave a beautiful and powerful speech that captivated and inspired the audience. Don is a former marine who served in Vietnam. He has built many companies during his long and successful career in business. But more important, he has built a life and a legacy of service.

Following the signing ceremony, we moved to P.S. 197 for a service project coordinated by our partner City Year, a wonderful organization that fosters and encourages service through various efforts and initiatives. On this day, City Year helped us bring graduate students in the mental health field together with veterans from our partner organizations. These men and women spent the afternoon painting murals and building planters at an inner city school in Harlem for children and teachers they will never meet. The students and veterans who joined us for this activity did so because they believe in service. They weren’t paid for their time and other than the principal who expressed her appreciation to all who came to help, no one will know their names or thank them for their effort.

We ended our first day with a benefit concert at BB King’s Blues Club in Times Square. Putting together a concert of any kind is a huge undertaking. Putting together a benefit concert is especially challenging. Fortunately, we had a few friends who stepped up to help.

I met Mark Rivera at an event on Veteran’s Day last year. He surprised me by asking what he could do to help Give an Hour. He plays saxophone for Billy Joel, a job he has had for 30 years. And he is a generous and compassionate man. He offered to help us not because it might benefit him, but because he believes in our mission. Mark readily agreed to be our music director if we wanted to put together a concert, and we set off to find additional talent for the show.

We worked for months on various leads and connections. We chased many possibilities and suffered many disappointments. In the end, however, we assembled an excellent collection of performers including Gloria Reuben, Kris Allen, Danielle Peck, The Secret State, and The 9th. Some of these individuals are very well known, others soon will be. Each chose to give their time, their energy, and their impressive talent for one night to ensure that those in need of mental health support receive the care and treatment they deserve. Because of their generosity and talent, we had a great evening and a successful event.

The second day of our Celebration of Service focused on our Got Your 6 commitment to train the next generation of mental health professionals on the issues that affect those who serve and their families. We held a day-long conference at Columbia Medical Center comprised of a series of six panels made up of experts within the field and moderated by top journalists and thought leaders. The students who attended—and those who watched via live streaming—heard from an impressive collection of military and civilian leaders who have been working tirelessly for years to better serve our military community.

Those who participated gave their time, their experience, and their expertise in the service of engaging and educating the young professionals who must continue to care for our service members and their families. Our speakers—many of whom traveled at their own expense—joined us to be part of an event that brought our community together. They came out of respect for Give an Hour’s mission and out of friendship to me. They didn’t expect or ask for anything in return.

We have the ability to address the needs of those who serve and their families if we harness the resources and opportunities available in our communities. Events like the ones Give an Hour hosted in NYC bring together those who are thoughtful, passionate, and committed. I have seen the collective impact that organizations and individuals can have when we work together to develop a more comprehensive system of care for those who serve and their families. And I know that we are each enriched by the service that we provide to others. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”