Give, Care, Share: Air Force Enlisted Village, Inc.
Story by Courtney Murray
“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices,” said President Harry S Truman. The Air Force Enlisted Village (formerly the Air Force Enlisted Widows Home Foundation) was formed to try to convey that deep gratitude. In 1967 the Air Force Sergeant’s Association conducted a survey discovering that over 50,000 widows of enlisted men were living in poverty. This number was staggering and that’s when, with the assistance of former Air Force Chief of Staff General and Mrs. John Ryan and a group of active duty and retired Air Force noncommissioned officers, the AFEV was founded. AFEV was incorporated in Washington, D.C. in 1968, granted federal tax-exempt status as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization in 1971, and then recognized as an official Air Force charity in 1973. The AFEV has changed so many lives since opening their doors and operates Bob Hope Village, an independent living community, and Hawthorn House, an assisted living and memory support residence.
The AFEV truly operates like a family where staff work by the “Mom Rule” when interacting with residents asking themselves: Would I do this to my mom? Would I do this for my mom? Would my mom approve? It is this special attention to detail and the caring staff that keeps residents healthy, happy and loving life. Mary Gilmore has resided at the AFEV for the past 40 years. Her children have tried to get her to come home with them to New York, but Mary can’t imagine leaving her friends and Air Force community. These are the type of unbreakable bonds that are formed at the AFEV. Surrounded by loved ones, Mary celebrated her 104th birthday in March, complete with a cake and sparkly tiara. The focus of the AFEV is on caring for widows of enlisted USAF Airmen, although their wingspan has spread to helping many others when space is available. When they are able, they assist in different ways for surviving spouses whose enlisted sponsors served in other branches, retired enlisted Air Force and other military services couples, spouses of enlisted members who die or who are killed on active duty, active duty members when tragedy or disaster strikes, and moms of active duty members. In order to continue broadening their reach, the AFEV needs the support of the community. There are always volunteer opportunities as well as charitable giving methods for people to contribute. AFEV provides their residents with basic essentials that most of society takes for granted, a safe home, security, dignity, independence, and camaraderie and allows them to live life to the fullest. For additional information visit www.afev.us.
Interview with AFEV President/CEO CMSgt (ret.) Brooke McLean, USAF
VIP Destin Magazine: Describe Air Force Enlisted Village’s involvement within the community?
Brooke McLean: We incorporated as a nonprofit in 1968 and after an extensive search, we selected this community as our home. This community provides outstanding support to our military members, retirees, and veterans and we’re proud to be recipients of and part of the support.
VIP Destin Magazine: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Brooke McLean: Helping someone who would not have any other support if it wasn’t for the AFEV. Some elder Americans outlive their relatives and their resources and have nowhere else to turn. The options for people who need this help are very limited.
VIP Destin Magazine: Tell us how you got involved with this organization?
Brooke McLean: As an active duty member, I had the opportunity to donate financially via the Air Force Assistance Fund and I also had the honor of volunteering at Bob Hope Village on numerous occasions.
VIP Destin Magazine: What have been some obstacles you’ve faced as an organization and some of your triumphs so far?
Every widow we get to help and provide a home for is a triumph. We are very appreciative of the generous financial support we receive from individuals and our community business partners. Fundraising is hard in the best of times and the number of quality charitable organizations increases every year; the demands to sustain our benevolent support is not letting up.
VIP Destin Magazine: Describe a situation working with the organization that really stood out and touched you.
One of our residents moved here from a low-income housing project in southern Florida and needed financial assistance. She also needed memory care but had no living relatives to serve as her guardian…she had nobody who could speak for her. Through the caring support of many people in this area, we were able to have a court-appointed guardian assist her and she now lives in the Hawthorn House where she has round-the-clock care and support. It breaks my heart to think there are people who need this type of help and aren’t receiving it.
VIP Destin Magazine: Is AFEV involved in any upcoming events?
We have the CMSAF Binnicker 9K fun run on Sept 23rd and we will celebrate our 50th Anniversary next year.
VIP Destin Magazine: What plans does AFEV have for the future?
Brooke McLean: We are very excited about updating and expanding our community center to emphasize wellness and fitness for our residents. We are also looking to build more apartments to expand our services to more people.