By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — One million veterans are expected to return to the U.S. over the next five years as the armed forces and military conflicts shrink, and at least 6,000 to 10,000 of those veterans are expected to be moving to the Charlotte region.
Helping veterans and their families successfully make the transition from military service is the focus of Charlotte Bridge Home, a nonprofit that has served 475 veterans and their dependents since it was formed in 2011.
In 2012, Charlotte Bridge Home spearheaded a community-wide planning effort that led to a Veterans Summit last March that attracted 450 participants, including representative of 26 military and other government agencies, 25 nonprofits and 66 for-profit companies.
“It was the beginning of an effort to form a coalition of employers to hire and retain more veterans,” says Cindi Basenspiler, an Army veteran who recently joined the nonprofit as executive director.
Basenspiler has focused much of her career on human resources.
Most recently, she served as vice president for human resources operations for Time Warner Cable, which has corporate headquarters in Charlotte and New York and employs 53,000 people.
Before that, she served as director of global human resources operations for Kennametal, based in Latrobe, Penna., and as vice president for human resources operations for Acuity Brands Lighting in Atlanta.
An Army captain who served as a Chinook helicopter pilot at Fort Mill, Okla., and Fort Rucker, Ala., and for two tours in South Korea, she also served as the recruiting officer for Army ROTC and as program director for equal opportunity, both in South Colorado.
Operating with an annual budget of roughly $600,000 and a staff of five people, Charlotte Bridge Home launched a campaign in June, known as the Charlotte Alliance for Veteran Employment, to enlist up to 50 companies in the region that would agree to hire at least one veteran.
The nonprofit already has connected with 15 companies about the campaign, and three have committed themselves to hire more veterans, Basenspiler says.
As part of its effort to build a coordinated network of services for nonprofits, Charlotte Bridge Home aims to team employers with one another so they can share information about how to work more effectively with veterans.
And it is has commissioned a consultant to evaluate the efficiency of its intake process.
Charlotte Bridge Home needs to assess quickly whether veterans who contact it have medical needs that can be assisted by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs or a hospital or clinic, and whether they have legal, employment or other needs.
“We track each veteran, and we also track each service provider to ensure the veteran doesn’t slip through the cracks,” Basenspiler says.
Charlotte Bridge Home also is working to develop collaborative relationships with other agencies providing services that veterans and their families may need, such as finding a job, temporary housing or legal advice; navigating employment or education benefits; or preparing for a job interview.
The nonprofit expects to serve 450 veterans and their dependents this year, up from 212 last year and 32 in 2011.
In 2012, it received 61 percent of its funds from foundations, 21 percent from corporations and 18 percent from individuals.
And for two years it has been a beneficiary of proceeds from the Southern Spring Home & Garden Show, receiving a significant share of its funding from the annual show.
“We’re building a coalition of employers to hire more veterans,” Basenpiler says, “and sign up more service-provider partners to whom we can connect veterans.”