“Supporting and shopping with women veteran entrepreneurs equates to stronger overall community for the entire nation,” stressed Hellena Pugh, Executive Director, Zahara Veterans Network, Inc. (ZVN), as the keynote speaker for the recent “Salute to Sisters in Service” Jacksonville event held June 12, 2023.
Pugh should know, being a USMC Veteran herself, having researched stats on the state of women Veterans and making them known to local legislation, and being a business owner and creator of Zahara, a non-profit that helps struggling women vets while showcasing their business advantages. She has built a professional network of a few thousand Veterans nationwide.
This important event, produced by the Florida Association of Veteran Owned Businesses (FAVOB), Jacksonville Chapter, recognized the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Women’s Armed Services Integration (WASI) Act, and the diverse contributions of women’s military service, aboard the USS Orleck in downtown Jacksonville.
This landmark legislation, signed into law by President Harry Truman on June 12, 1948, granted women the right to serve as regular, permanent members of the US Armed Forces.
While women had played crucial roles prior to the WASI Act, especially during World War II, when the official banner of “free a man to fight” led to more than 400,000 women serving in the US Armed Forces, (including members of the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) under the provisions of the Naval Reserve Act of 1938), this did not provide for women’s service during peacetime.
Although initially capped at 2% of all personnel and prohibited from participating fully in combat units, the WASI Act marked a significant turning point in the fight for women’s rights and equality, setting the stage for further progress.
Just as women have now played crucial roles during war and peace times in keeping our nation secure, Pugh pointed out that women Vets lead the way as successful business creators. They are known for outpacing their civilian colleagues by staying in business longer, hiring more veterans and giving more towards charitable causes.
Nationwide, more than 380,000 firms have owners or co-owners who are women Veterans. “We are the fastest and largest group of business owners in the United States,” said Pugh. According to stats, most businesses in Florida include tourism, healthcare, technology, aerospace and defense.
Pugh stressed the great support women Vet entrepreneurs have here in Jacksonville. The Jacksonville Women’s Business Center at the city’s Chamber of Commerce, with Jackie Perrault at the helm, along with her staff, are known to be one of the best in Florida at helping women succeed. ”She was instrumental in helping me establish my business and non-profit,” said Pugh.
The State of Florida’s Small Business Administration office, overseen by Natalie Hall, also provides a wealth of information on Veteran programs and services. These committed folks are just waiting for when women Vets are going to flood their offices with business requests, finance proposals and patent ideas.
And yet, with all their pluses, women Vets are also plagued by mental and emotional challenges at higher percentages than their male counterparts.
“Through my own experiences, having retired in 2012, more than 70%, or two in every three women Vets, have been impacted by either military sexual trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder, with suicide numbers beyond the crisis level,” said Pugh. “Since 2006, the rate has not gone down, even for one year, which tells us we have a big problem.”
That’s why Pugh created Zahara Veterans Network, Inc., (www.zaharavets.org) in 2016, with the goal of connecting women Veterans to each other and resources within their community. “We help guide women Veterans to the right resources, government programs, family support services, or career development centers, to make a true difference,” said Pugh.
Prior to COVID, ZVN, Inc., hosted monthly in-person events specifically for women Vets, bringing together all services, and partnering with organizations like Amazon, the SBDC, and the VA Vet Center to focus on Veteran programs and services. ZVN, Inc., has rallied for better treatment by the city of Jacksonville concerning the requirements of a loan program requiring Vets to pay back funds received or risk being barred from future funds, that resulted in revamped program wordage. ZVN, Inc., has also raised funds to help connect veterans to mental health and career support resources in various ways, including a recent 5K Walk for Women Vets.
This celebration of Women Veterans Day was made possible by FAVOB Jax event sponsors/coordinators from First Citizens Bank, the Forde Firm, St George Equipment and Dr Jessica Hudson of Anchored Chiropractic. During the event, all those attending got a chance to talk about their firm and how they are contributing to community entrepreneurship.
FAVOB Jax, although a relatively new chapter, is bringing a lot of value to local veteran-owned businesses through events like this. Led by Doug Cochrane, CPT, USN (ret), he is appreciative of all those involved. “I am amazed at the quantity, depth and quality of our local Veteran-owned businesses,” said Cochrane. “More impressive is the Jacksonville and Northeast Florida communities embracing of our organization, ideals and membership and I foresee those bonds becoming stronger over time. If the first six months of FAVOB’s operations are any indicator, our collective future is very bright, indeed.” Go to favob.net for more information.
The “Salute to Sisters in Service” event was well attended by FAVOB members and the community aboard the USS Orleck in downtown Jacksonville.