|Soldiers' Angels Board of Trustees members Matt Burden (right) and Ricky John (left) present American Women Veterans founder Genevieve Chase with the 2011 McKay Award.
American Women Veterans received the 2011 Soldiers’ Angels MacKay Award at a ceremony in San Antonio on Friday. Named for a former Board Member of Soldiers Angels who was a great supporter of smaller nonprofits and cross-organizational cooperation, the $5000 award is given to a new or startup nonprofit working to support military personnel, veterans or military families.
A relatively new organization, AWV fills a gap in veterans organizations, focusing on the unique needs, experiences and camaraderie of America’s female veterans of all generations. “We envision a society in which the legacy of America’s servicewomen, veterans and their families is celebrated and carried on to future generations of powerful and inspiring women,” their mission statement explains. “We strive to empower [them] with a continued sense of pride and service which enables them to reach their full potential and to contribute as they always have, in making America stronger.”
Chase is thrilled to receive both the moral and financial support of Soldiers’ Angels. “We are extremely honored to be recognized by Soldiers’ Angels in this way,” she says. “The money is amazing, but the acknowledgement means just as much. I’ve always heard so much about the great work Soldiers’ Angels does, and it’s an honor to feel a part of that work now and to be supported in this way.”
Soldiers’ Angels Board of Trustees member Matt Burden, who supported AWV’s nomination, points out that AWV’s work complements the passion of Soldiers’ Angels for recognizing and supporting veterans. “American Women Veterans has grown to become an effective advocate for new or improved policies that enhance the lives of women veterans and all of our veterans' families,” he says. “AWV is about embracing the honor of service and inspiring future generations to serve our great nation in the same tradition as generations have before them.”
It all began when Executive Director Genevieve Chase, a wounded veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), hit what she calls “rock bottom” one night. As she struggled with the physical and emotional effect s of combat stress and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in the middle of the night, she thought there was nobody she could call. The next morning she realized she probably wasn’t the only person who felt that way and began to explore organizations of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, eventually joining the work of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).
During her time with IAVA in Washington, DC, Chase received a thorough education in effective advocacy and political action on behalf of veterans. She appreciated the camaraderie and support, but soon recognized that “nobody was talking about women’s issues, and there was such a big need for that,” she recalls. With the blessing of IAVA leadership, she struck out on her own in late 2008, eventually founding AWV.
Response to the early work of AWV through a page on Facebook was massive, and last month Chase shifted to a part-time job to allow her to focus on taking AWV to the next level. “The need is overwhelming,” she says.
While the entire AWV leadership team will vote on the disbursal of the $5000 prize, Chase personally hopes it can become seed money for a scholarship program for female veterans with children who need childcare support while attending college, something the GI Bill does not cover.