South Charlotte

Respite center’s program helps female veterans

While coming home can be hard for any veteran, women who’ve served in active military duty can face unique challenges.

Many have to switch from “soldier” mode to “mom” mode, on top of dealing with housing, child care and a host of other issues.

The Respite: A Centre for Grief & Hope, a nonprofit organization that works with people who have suffered tragedy and loss, has launched a program for female veterans called “Hope Back Home.”

“What they have lacked is the support of other women to help them through those things,” said Elizabeth Berrien, director of marketing and development for The Respite. “I think women benefit from the support of other women.”

Berrien’s husband, a Special Forces soldier, was killed on a mission in Afghanistan in 2009. She has since co-founded The Respite, written a book about grief and established a support community for young widows.

“Through my experience, I recognize the plight of military veterans and their families, and the sacrifices they make,” Berrien said. “Our goal is to honor their service by providing a unique program that targets women veterans as they face the difficulties of transition back into civilian life.”

Hope Back Home, a 12-week program, recently began with four female veterans who The Respite connected with by reaching out to veterans’ Meetup groups and veterans’ organizations.

The four women meet weekly with Mandy Eppley, a licensed psychotherapist at The Respite. There, they practice yoga, get therapeutic massages, participate in a support group and practice therapeutic art to help them cope with issues related to their military service.

Yvonne McJetters joined the Navy in 1990 and served in combat in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. After four years of service, she returned home and now serves as a community social justice activist. She organizes a Meetup group for female veterans.

McJetters also is one of the four women in the Hope Back Home program. She said her appointments for the program have “made all of the difference in the world in my life.”

“Since I became part of this program, I’ve made some very personal and life-changing decisions,” she said. “This program is needed in this community because there are so few programs that really and truly provide dedicated service to female veterans.”

For larger organizations, providing adequate, dedicated services for women is not cost-effective, McJetters said.

“It is my opinion (that) women veterans’ service has not been treated as equally important as that of our male counterparts,” she said. “Often, men are respected for their commitment to military service. But it is unfortunate that women in most cases do not receive the same recognition and respect.”

McJetters, who is a single mother, said she had to deal with many of the same issues that military women face upon returning home, including finding child care, transportation, housing and getting a job.

Each woman in Hope Back Home works on specific goals with Eppley. Program directors hope the veterans can lessen anxiety and release tension, learn strategies for managing stressful times and build friendships.

So far, The Respite has received good feedback from Hope Back Home participants.

“These four women are so committed to this program, and it’s been really beyond our greatest expectations,” Berrien said. “We’ve been hearing from them how much this means to them, and we are very pleased so far.”

Marty Minchin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email her at martyminchin@gmail.com.

Want to help?

Hope Back Home is funded through a grant from Patriot Charities and by Debbie and Gary Eaker. On March 22, Flywheel Sports at 2907 Providence Road will host a fundraiser from 2:30 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. to raise money for Hope Back Home. The indoor cycling event, called “Ride for The Respite,” is open to the community and to people of all fitness levels. The event costs $25 per person, and registration is available at http://therespite.org/calendar/ride-for-the-respite. For more information about The Respite, visit http://therespite.org.

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