Not giving up on them
When Jessica Schmitt's husband, Master Sgt. Derrick J. Schmitt, was disabled after his 22 1/2 years serving in the U.S. Air Force, she took an unpaid leave of absence from work to care for him.
Derrick had served in the U.S. Air force Security Forces Phoenix Raven Special Operations Forces.
While he was struggling with health problems, Jessica said Derrick couldn't be left alone and wasn't able to get Veterans Affairs benefits. So Jessica, a nurse for many years, cared for her husband.
Jessica said she used her nursing background to find every resource she could to help her husband and family.
"I had to reach out," Jessica said, "...and look for different nonprofits and different resources to try to help support us through that time so we didn't lose everything we had worked for for 30 years."
Derrick, Jessica said, wanted to pay it forward when he was healthy enough to do so.
"He was just really grateful and inspired that I was here to help him with that," she said, "and he wanted his other brothers and sisters in arms to have that same opportunity."
Though Jessica and her family never gave up on Derrick, he died two years ago. In the wake of tragedy, Jessica decided to carry on her husband's legacy.
"After months of trying to heal, I just finally decided that's what I'm going to do, I'm going to carry on that legacy in his honor," Jessica said, "And continue to try to help as many people as I can."
So Jessica founded a new nonprofit called Victory and Valor for Vets Project, Inc.
VVVP will assist veterans, service members and military families who are struggling financially, physically or mentally.
Schmitt said many veterans, even if they're not physically injured or disabled, struggle with issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and more.
VVVP will offer:
• Financial assistance with things like rent, food, utilities, vehicle repair and maintenance, transportation, medical equipment and supplies
• Activities to keep veterans and military families active and connected with each other, such as golfing, bowling, swimming, camping and movie nights
• Pro bono legal help
• Connection to caregiver groups and other resources
• Resources for group therapy, counseling and education materials for issues like PTSD, depression and more for veterans, service members and military families
The Schmitts lived "the military life" for many years, and had a lot of support, Jessica said. Both she and Derrick were born and raised in River Falls. They raised their two children here.
Jessica said she thinks her husband would be proud of the organization she's started.
"The military life is a different life. It's a very united group of people, and you just never get over that unity," Jessica said. "So I think he would definitely be proud that I am continuing to try to bring that unity within this group of people and recognize that we're so honored that they have fought for our country, and we're not going to give up on them.
"Somebody has to not give up on them, and recognize what they've done for our country."
So far it's taken a year of work to get to this point, Jessica said. And in that time, she's seen a lot of support.
VVVP was incorporated in August 2016, and received 501(c)3 nonprofit status last month. For a start-up nonprofit, things are moving at a speedy pace, Jessica said.
Her next step is raising enough money to be able to help people who come to VVVP for help.
"We're trying to just lay the foundation so that we can be really successful by the end of the summer," Jessica said, "and make sure that we raise some good money and networking with the right people."
Jessica said VVVP has two fundraisers planned: This year's "Cruisin' for a Cause" motorcycle run, set for July 22, and a run (on foot) tentatively set for Sept. 23.
VVVP representatives will also be at Johnnie's Bar on Friday evenings, for 13 weeks, starting in September, selling raffle tickets.
Once enough funds have been raised to help people, Schmitt said, VVVP will start taking applications from veterans, service members or their friends and family.
"I'm excited to be able to start helping people," Jessica said, "and implement all of that hard work."
To keep the focus on helping people, Jessica said, she's set up the nonprofit so it can be run remotely from her home. Any future employees would be able also to work that way, so she can keep as much money as possible going to the veterans served by VVVP.
Many people have come forward to help in one way or another, Jessica said.
"I've just ... been very fortunate in my life to meet really good people, My husband touched a lot of people's lives and those people have helped us and will continue to honor him and help these veterans."
Jessica said VVVP will take whatever help it can get. Those interested in contributing can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or looking up Victory and Valor for Vets Project, Inc. on Facebook.