In just over a year, the infant Give an Hour organization founded to help with mounting mental health problems of returning veterans from the wars in the Middle East has grown to adulthood and professionals and private volunteers have provided some 6,500 hours of assistance to veterans and their families.
Founder and Executive Director Barbara V. Romberg, Ph.D., was nearly giddy when contacted about the growth of her organization. And why not? She recently received a $1 million grant from Eli Lilly with the help of the American Psychiatric Foundation (APF).
Give an Hour ranks have grown to about 2,000 professional volunteers and a steadily growing number of private people who just want to help. And she is talking with the American Psychological Association on how the two organizations can work together.
In just eight months professional providers donated about 1,500 hours, which based on $100 a session equals about $150,000, she said. She acknowledged it could be more, since some professionals don’t report their services. She expects the number of professionals to increase to 5,000 by next summer.
The volunteer non-mental health staff, which includes military personnel, students, pastors and family members, has accumulated about 5,000 hours in assisting those returning from war-torn situations with a host of mental health difficulties.
“It really says there are a lot of people who see this as a huge need and want to help. We get a lot of military family members saying ‘Thank you so much’ and asking what they can do to help.”
Give an Hour was developed as a non-profit organization to respond to acute and chronic conditions and especially to work with military personnel returning from war zones. Mental health professionals “give an hour” each week to provide free mental health services to war veterans or their families.
“I think folks in our field really want to do something and we seem to have created a vehicle for them to do that,” Romberg said. “On the other side, organizations, government and veterans are responding to the mental health needs as the primary issue. There’s a tremendous amount of collaboration now going on with Give an Hour and all sorts of people.”
Recently she met with the special assistant to the secretary of the Veterans Administration to discuss Give an Hour purposes and goals. And she was invited to the White House to participate in a roundtable discussion on Compassion in Action, part of President’s Bush’s Faith-Based and Community Initiatives program.
“We are being recognized as a piece of the solution, she said. “We are now being seen as a community-based mental health organization that’s stepping up to serve and to help them do what they can to help. In giving the million-dollar grant, Eli Lilly and APF said, ‘you are doing something special and we want to be part of it. How can we help you?’ So they gave us a grant.”
Give an Hour is made up of one-third psychologists, one-third social workers and one-third psychiatrists, disaster abuse people, pastors and counselors. Romberg described it “as a broad spectrum of volunteers that was Give an Hour’s goal from the beginning. This is not a one-size-fits-all. This is about all these folks in the mental health professions having something unique to offer.”
The Washington, D.C., psychologist said she encourages professionals and volunteers to give in a number of ways. They can give direct service – face-to-face, presentations to educational groups, to the National Guard and to veteran’s groups. Anything, she added, that will promote what Give an Hour is all about.
Romberg said the grant money made it possible to hire one employee. It also will help in preparing brochures that will be mailed to volunteers for distribution to hospitals and veteran organizations.
With the aid of APF, Give an Hour is developing a strategy to get the message out to the public through the print media, television and radio. That should occur next year, she said. Another goal is to offer a national training program so that those who want or need additional training can obtain it.
“There’s so much we can do. We don’t need to see another Vietnam generation of people who are suffering. We really can do it this time,” Romberg said.
Information on how to join Give an Hour is available at www.giveanhour.org.