Despite this years’ COVID-19 related challenges, the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA) Outreach and Advocacy Program moved its mission forward. Historically, much of the education and outreach to veterans and community providers has been in person. So in March, upon transitioning to full time telework status, we quickly learned to navigate Google Meet, Zoom, WebEx, and GoToMeeting in order to stay connected to the communities we serve. Since June, we’ve attended 140 meetings and virtual events, topping the entire number of events in FY20 by 30 events. Working remotely has not slowed us down!
Throughout the year, we’ve participated in many meetings and provided briefings spanning all corners of the state. One particular event of considerable significance was held in honor of Veterans Day. The veterans’ symposium, organized by Maryland Delegate Mike Rogers (District 31), along with partners like the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus, Veterans Caucus and Women’s Caucus, Anne Arundel County Veterans Affairs Commission and MDVA, had more than 1,000 attendees. The virtual symposium was streamed to Facebook Live and YouTube and was televised on two local television channels.
The success of the symposium speaks to the value in collective impact, a process which brings people together, in an organized fashion, to bring about social change. As described by the Collective Impact Forum, collective impact “starts with a common agenda, establishes shared measurement, fosters mutually reinforcing activities, ensures continuous communication, and has a strong backbone.” The philosophy of collective impact requires community participation, cross-sector partners, leaders with unique leadership skills, and builds a culture that fosters relationships.
Just this week I had a call with a Maryland Congressional Delegation staff member. We concluded our call with a discussion on the power of relationship building and how good relationships foster great change. As we close out 2020, I could not believe more in the power of relationships. Without the opportunity to meet face to face, as professionals across the state, we’ve relied on these relationships and creative means for connecting in order to serve our veterans.
In January, when the first joint county veteran commissions summit was held, there was great hope for what 2020 might bring for the ad hoc group developed upon the conclusion of that day. Despite limitations to meeting face to face, this year brought us together for two virtual meetings; county veteran commissions were trained on homeless services, intimate partner violence awareness, veteran service organization best practices, and the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University’s Measuring Communities online data portal. As the Director of Outreach for the MDVA I am hopeful for 2021. My Deputy Director and I will continue in our efforts to effect change, and to connecting with our veterans and those who serve them. We are thankful to all of our partners and the common agenda we all share: improving the lives of our veteran community and their families. Thank you and best wishes for a healthy and happy new year.
Dana Burl, Director, Outreach & Advocacy