Charity Helps Veterans Find Purpose Following The Military

KPBS | Tania Thorne | April 27, 2021 | Link to Article

Life after the military can be difficult for service members to find a new purpose following their military careers.

For Mike Andela, a Marine Corps veteran, it took the help of Semper Fi and Americas Fund to find a way to put his talents to work.

“He’s incredibly gifted, but he was looking for something he could pour that talent into that could make him a little bit of money and give him a purpose to serve the community,” said Casey Fisher, an apprenticeship program manager with the fund.

Mike Andela spent 16 years in the Marine Corps, including tours to the Middle East as part of an explosive ordnance disposal unit. He suffered multiple injuries from explosives.

“I had an IED behind me go off. It was about 100 to 110 pounds of explosives. I was probably about 10 yards away from that on foot,” Andela said. ‘That hurt really bad as well.”

But a final concussion in 2016 is what forced Andela to go home. He eventually had to take a medical retirement in 2018.

“I left Kuwait and Iraq that year pretty angry, just defeated,” he said. “It's like you took away one of my main purposes for living.”

Andela had to find a new purpose for life but didn't know where to start after identifying as a Marine for so long.

“People look at you as being Superman. What you do, how you do it, and when you don't have that anymore… it's tough to pull yourself out of that,” he said.

His injuries caused him intense migraines and disorientation. This prevented him from dedicating 40 hours a week to an employer.

“I was scared of, ‘How am I going to provide for my family,’ because Marine Corps retirement does not pay all the bills," Andela said. "It's not like everybody thinks, you're going to get out, you're going to retire and everything is going to be fine."

This is a situation often faced by retiring service members and it’s what Semper Fi and Americas Fund focus on.

“We see a lot of veterans that are searching for something tangible, something that's purpose-filled for their life, and tools they can use in their recovery,” Semper Fi and Americas Fund's senior manager of the apprenticeship program Casey Fisher said.

The programs that the fund offers help service members find a new purpose after service.

That’s where the idea for Coastal Sign Company grew.

“My wife actually came up with the idea for Coastal Sign Company as it being a workshop, not just something that we sell," Andela said. "Where people come to a workshop and they start out with a pile of wood like you see here and they end up with their very own, something they created, something they personalize, made, paint, and get to bring it home.”

Andela operates the workshop with his wife out of their garage. Semper Fi and America’s Fund helped Andela with all of the details on forming the business and some funding.

“They will tailor your business plan around what you want and what you can do and what you want to see your business doing,” he said.

Funding for Semper Fi and Americas Fund comes mainly from one-off donations and some grants. They have helped over 30,000 families nationwide.

Their mission is to support the wounded, ill, or injured veterans and their families in all military branches.

“We have programs that range from an athletic program where you can play golf, learn how to ride a bike," Fisher said. "We have a horse program, where we train service members to ride horses and get to the point where they can do cattle drive, which is one of our greatest programs. And then there's the program I’m in where we will help veterans in navigating what it is they want to do after the military."

Semper Fi and Americas Fund will be having a virtual auction of products from the fund’s programs now through May 3rd.

“These things are cool," Fisher said. "They are handmade products by American veterans who served our country and give us the freedoms that we have to buy products like this, so let's keep it in the U.S. and buy from these guys."

All proceeds will go to benefit programs helping veterans from the fund.