Supporting women veterans who serve their families, communities and country
Jodie Grenier is the CEO of the Foundation for Women Warriors, a nonprofit providing support and resources to women veterans and their families
Her own transition from military to civilian life presented challenges, so when an opportunity opened up to help smooth that same transition for other women veterans, Jodie Grenier was excited. Plus, she welcomed the challenge.
“Both myself and my sister, Josephine, served in the military (with) deployments to Iraq multiple times, and faced various transition challenges. The mission was deeply personal to me, but more than that, I saw the needs of women veterans were being overshadowed and this organization was an opportunity to create real, lasting change,” she said of why she chose to work with the Foundation for Women Warriors after a career in national security and intelligence, both in the Marine Corps and in her civilian life.
“I had the unique opportunity to lead an organization that helps women veterans navigate the challenges that I, at one time, faced alone. Additionally, there were quite a few areas that were in need of improvement and I was up for the challenge. It’s truly a gift to lead this organization.”
The Foundation for Women Warriors focuses on serving female veterans through support in navigating housing, childcare, employment and education in order to enhance the personal and financial well-being of the women they’re helping. They provide transition services, childcare assistance, connections with other veterans, building community, and emergency assistance with money and other basic needs.
Grenier, 38, lives in Carlsbad and has been serving as CEO since 2016. She took some time to talk about her work with the foundation, how the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted some of their focus, and her love of throwing dinner parties for her friends.
Q: Tell us about Foundation for Women Warriors.
A: Foundation for Women Warriors was first established at the California Soldier’s Widows Housing Association in 1920, in an area of West Los Angeles known as Sawtelle. The community at that time saw an immense need to care for the widows and mothers of killed Union Soldiers, and the widows of the wars current to that time. Many women had not only suffered the loss of their caregiver, but some would die in poverty. While the organization was established in 1920, it wasn’t until February of 1922 that the first stone was laid that would become home to eight bungalows providing widows, war nurses and mothers with affordable housing for more than 70 years. Many of those women had either served or lost their spouses in World War II. In the late ‘90s, the bungalows were sold and the organization created both long- and short-term housing stipends to prevent homelessness among this unique population.
In 2006, the California Soldier’s Widows Housing Association became Military Women in Need. The organization then broadened its service area to all of Southern California, rebranded, and began shifting focus to the needs of the women veterans returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Four years ago, I had the honor of leading another rebrand: new leadership, name, logo, messaging and improved programming. With so many other organizations serving widows and spouses, we focused our efforts to the women veteran community. Women veterans have long self-identified housing, childcare, employment and education as their four top needs. We are solely focused on enhancing the personal and fiscal well-being of women veterans. We have proactively created a holistic approach to provide critical interventions and solutions and as well as build a community of support for women veterans. … Women’s history is truly our history, and as women’s roles have changed throughout history and in service to our country, there are still economic challenges that remain.
Q: Part of your organization’s mission is in serving women veterans and their children through forms of assistance that include housing, helping to fulfill basic and emergency needs, education, employment, mental health services, childcare and more. As a Marine Corps veteran yourself, I’m curious about what your experience was upon entering civilian life.
A: When I transitioned out of the military in 2005, I had just returned from a year-long deployment to Iraq only a month and a half prior. I attended a very basic transition course that was about a week long, and then moved back home. I navigated the transition without mentorship or resources. I enrolled in a community college, bartended, and became a server at a local restaurant and found myself frustrated and later humbled. I went from providing critical information to unit commanders in Iraq, to asking customers for their lunch orders. I felt as if I was capable of so much more, but due to my lack of network and lack of mentors, I had limited opportunities. There were some encounters where people questioned my service because I was a woman and assumed I had somehow been sheltered from the war, and this was particularly frustrating. I was still processing my deployments to Iraq, a blow to my identity, and wondering how I was going to ever “make it.”
Q: Has the pandemic shifted any of the focus or other elements of your organization’s work?
A: In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we shifted our focus to meet the most immediate needs of the women veteran community through our Women Veteran Emergency Services program. We launched an emergency assistance program to provide financial stipends to help women veterans and their families with critical needs, such as paying utilities, rent and feeding families. Seventy percent of our clients are single mothers without family nearby, many facing reduced hours and layoffs. While the long-term effects of COVID-19 furloughs, school closures and layoffs are still unfolding, we’ve continued to survey our veterans monthly and the results reveal that many veterans are still struggling to make ends meet. In our most recent survey, women veteran mothers currently balancing careers and/or their own educational pursuits with homeschooling their children, report the pandemic has been devastating to both their mental health and their finances. In response, we are providing critical items in addition to our emergency financial assistance. We have acquired a warehouse in northern San Diego County to collect and distribute diapers, baby wipes, formula, car seats, cribs, school supplies, and other essential household goods.
Q: Why is this work, serving women veterans and their children, important to you?
A: Women have served this country dating as far back as the Revolutionary War, and before being granted the right to vote. These trailblazing women deserve success after service. They put their lives and education on hold to protect our security and when they transition, many must work, pursue an education, and care for families. When they succeed, our nation succeeds.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
A: I don’t know that I’ve archived anything as the best advice I’ve ever received. I read quite a bit so I’d have to say most of the advice I’ve received is likely from authors. Otherwise I’d say, perhaps, “Don’t rest on your laurels” is something that resonates.
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: I love throwing dinner parties and host an annual Thanksgiving for friends and no one is allowed to make or bring a thing, except wine (wine is always welcome).
Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: My ideal weekend in San Diego is with my significant other Carlo, running along the coast, running the trails at Torrey Pines, breakfast at the local Carlsbad diners, a night at the (San Diego) Symphony by the Bay, and dinner with friends.
—Lisa Deaderick is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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