The small fishing village of Noank, located in Groton, Connecticut, may seem like an unlikely place to start a nonprofit. But in this peaceful and historic seaside haven of just 2.2 square miles, a single act of kindness that started here in 2008 gave birth to a charity unlike any other. With less than 2,000 residents, the town is home to an organization that has helped over 2,200 veteran entrepreneurs by donating equipment valued at over $2.5 million.
One day, a Noank lobster fisherman named John Niekrash decided he needed a bigger boat. This decision prompted his next thought, which was what to do with his current vessel. It was then John met a young Marine who had recently returned home from the Iraq War.
The Marine was dealing with injuries from the conflict, and it was clear he could use a helping hand. Niekrash promptly made the decision to give the young Marine his old boat, no strings attached. With that loving gift, Work Vessels for Veterans was born.
There are many charities in the United States designed to help veterans. Most focus on providing financial support, medical assistance, or advocating for veterans' rights. Although these are all noble causes, there are many other ways to support veterans.
Unlike many other nonprofits helping former service members, Work Vessels for Veterans looks to specifically support veteran entrepreneurs. The Work Vessels for Veterans team noted that in a recent national survey of veteran entrepreneurs, combat veterans dealing with PTSD and physical injuries exhibited a preference toward being self-employed.
Many stated self-employment allows them to have "bad days" and attend the frequent medical appointments common among war vets. That's where Work Vessels for Veterans comes in.
The organization's mission is, "To equip America's returning veterans with the tools they need to start a business or pursue career education." To serve this purpose, Work Vessels for Veterans further divides its mission into three programs.
Equipping Veteran-Owned Small Businesses. This WVFV program provides critical new or used equipment (adapted to accommodate injuries if needed) to returning veterans who are starting a nonfarming business.
Equipping Injured Veteran-Farmers. This WVFV program provides agricultural equipment (tractors, fencing, farm equipment) to America's veterans starting farms or ranches. Working closely with the Farmer Veteran Coalition and AgrAbility chapters, Work Vessels for Vets identifies needed farm equipment and any modifications required to adapt equipment for combat injuries around the country.
Equipping Nonprofit Programs that serve veterans. With the understanding that "start-up" nonprofits need equipment, too, WVFV awards equipment to equine therapy programs and veteran training programs, as well as boats for therapeutic fishing programs and electronics to programs for vets with PTSD.
Amazingly, Work Vessels for Veterans is run by just nine people, all of whom are volunteers. In addition to the staff, many volunteers make up a national network of mentors offering their experience in the business world to help new veteran entrepreneurs get started. Work Vessels for Veterans operates solely on donations from individuals and corporations.
Contributions can be in the form of monetary donations or "in-kind" gifts. Refurbished laptops, a 33-foot sailboat, and cars are a few examples of recent in-kind contributions. The sailboat is used in a program for veterans with PTSD, while many of the donated vehicles have been modified to accommodate veterans with disabilities.
Veterans interested in working with Work Vessels for Veterans can submit a completed business plan to begin the process. After reviewing the business plan and addressing any questions, the staff will then see if there are available donations to help the business owner.
The team works with the veteran to decide what equipment or training will best support them in achieving their goals. Monies are never given directly to a veteran, and the team assists in making the purchase for them. Veterans have been supplied with fishing vessels, vans, vehicles, laptops, trucks, toolsets, drones, tractors, trailers, farmland, fencing, and furniture.
Now beginning its second decade in operation, Work Vessels for Veterans continues to impact both the veteran community and small businesses. Please consider supporting this fantastic charity by making a donation today.