Blake Bourne ripped his clothes off in front of dozens of people Wednesday night to make a point.
Bourne is one of thousands of veterans who have moved to Charlotte recently and one of many thousands nationally who struggled with the transition back into civilian life. Bourne was a captain in the U.S. Army for years, and twice served in Iraq. In that environment, he knew his role and he knew he was part of a bigger mission.
When he left the Army and moved to Charlotte, he was lost. He didn’t have a job, he didn’t know what his next chapter would be, and he struggled to navigate through life. Then, with help from others, he found a job and himself. He told that journey through a few quick wardrobe changes.
It’s a familiar pattern as the military downsizes and wars end. Charlotte is a magnet for veterans nationally, with about 10,000 moving here every year. Some thrive immediately, but many are like Bourne and wrestle with the transition into unstructured civilian life and away from the order of the military.
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Thankfully, Charlotte is also rapidly becoming a national model for how to help these vets who risked their lives for their country. Led by an organization called Charlotte Bridge Home, nonprofits are partnering to give veterans counseling, help them find jobs and much more.
The group’s efforts have ramped up dramatically in recent weeks. After serving about 300 veterans all of last year, Charlotte Bridge Home has seen 150 in the past six weeks or so. On August 1, CBH became the lead for an effort called NCServes, the country’s first statewide network designed to provide supportive services to veterans. The Walmart Foundation gave $1 million toward the effort. Charlotte is the second city, after New York, selected to be involved with this type of program because the city was ahead of others in helping veterans connect with the services they need.
This service will only become more vital as more veterans arrive in Charlotte. Watch Bourne strip down in the video above, and you’ll see what a different Charlotte Bridge Home makes. Taylor Batten