Roy Sartin and Eli Williamson are kindred spirits. They met in a freshman year Latin class at Kenwood Academy High School and attended Luther College in Iowa. During college, both men enlisted in the Army and deployed overseas to the Middle East.
After years of military service as a staff sergeant in special operations as a psychological operations specialist and an Arabic linguist with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Williamson found himself back in Chicago thinking about his next chapter as his student loans came due. Coincidentally, his old friend Sartin had also recently been discharged from his Army Heavy Combat Engineer Reserve unit as a sergeant and was contemplating his new purpose as a civilian. He too was grappling with student loans.
The difference between military and civilian life felt stark. They spent years fostering a very specific skill set to find it underutilized upon their return. And they weren’t alone in this feeling. They found that many veterans had trouble reconnecting with their communities after their service ended and that student debt and underemployment were major burdens for many returning service members.
“When you recognize a problem, your duty as a member of society is to do something about it,” said Sartin.
Sartin and Williamson thought there was a solution to the problem of service members feeling disconnected from their communities and lacking resources upon return. They launched Leave No Veteran Behind in 2008 to invest in veterans to build better communities through retroactive scholarships, transitional jobs and community engagement. Leave No Veteran Behind connects veterans with service opportunities that utilize their unique skill set, all while helping them pay off student debt.
They launched Leave No Veteran Behind in 2008 to invest in veterans to build better communities through retroactive scholarships, transitional jobs and community engagement.
A fantastic example of utilizing veterans’ skills as assets for the community started in 2009, when they partnered with Chicago Public Schools to position veterans on the corner of 35th and Martin Luther King Drive near several schools to help alleviate violence. The veterans, understanding the neighborhood, helped make sure students had a safe experience traveling to and from school each day.
The veterans became known and welcomed in the school area and violence decreased. Because of its success, CPS expanded the program across the city and it became known as The Safe Passage Program. Thanks to Leave No Veteran Behind, more than 700 veterans are helping to keep the children of Chicago safe.
Sartin and Williamson paved the way for other organizations in Chicago to consider the contributions of veterans as vital for our communities. “Helping communities to thrive is work we are all supposed to do,” said Williamson. “We are so glad to see the positive impact of Leave No Veteran Behind, both on the veterans we work with and on our community.”
The Military Award is presented to an active, reserve guard, Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), or veteran member(s) of the Armed Forces, or military supporter, who acted above and beyond the call of duty or have made an ongoing commitment to the community
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