Sharing Stories of Everyday Good

In service to those who have served

In late November of last year, I received an invitation from Eric Gage of Student Veterans of America to apply for the 2017-2018 Newman’s Own Foundation Fellowship.

To be completely honest with you, I felt that my chances of becoming part of the 2017-2018 cohort were slim to none, but I am a firm believer in luck — thanks to Paul Newman. I took a chance, and I am extremely glad that I did.

Even though I felt sufficiently prepared for my transition out of college, leaving my home state, my family, and the network I had built was not easy.

The warm and welcoming staff at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) alleviated many of the initial concerns I had about moving from Alaska to Syracuse. They gave me advice on ideal places to live and activities to get involved with, which made the transition that much easier.

Many of my mentors have asked me “Why IVMF?” to which my reply is, “It’s about the mission, In Service to Those Who Serve.” Every day is about veterans and military families, and that commitment to service is my fuel.

My role as a program assistant at IVMF has already given me a great opportunity to participate in the delivery of a myriad of programs serving military veterans and family members.

My duties span from research, project planning, recruiting, and positively interacting with veterans and military family members participating in IVMF programs. So far, my duties have taken me to Fort Drum, Louisville, Norfolk, Chicago, Charlotte, and Washington, D.C. The list is still growing.

James poses with Paul Newman cut-out Gilchrest poses with a cardboard cut-out of Newman's Own Foundation founder. (Photo: James Gilchrest)

So far my favorite moment as an NOF Fellow was attending an event honoring Senators Robert and Elizabeth Dole in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. It was truly one of the most impactful moments in my life, as I was able to see Newman’s Own Foundation’s effect on veterans and military families all over the nation.

As a service member, it was inspiring to know that since 2010, the Foundation has donated $18.6 million to assist those who serve and their families.

I have seen the invigorating power of entrepreneurship shape, energize, and empower veterans and military spouses alike. I have seen the motivating sparkle in the eye of a veteran who had dealt with uncertainty and fear be restored with purpose and community.

These experiences alone have changed my life.

This year is a defining moment in my life. It is a year of extreme mentorship, extreme learning, and most importantly, extreme service.

I think I have found the perfect place to escape mediocrity, extend myself as a human being, and dive deep into my passion of being in service to my country. If the goal of my fellowship was to discover what I am meant to do with my life, then I have met that goal.

A previous version of this article was published on the Newman's Own Foundation blog on November 6, 2017.