Sentinels of Freedom began as a way of honoring young people choosing to join the military out of high school. Following the 9/11 attacks, Mike Conklin and his group realized that some of these young people would be coming home severely injured and would likely need extra help. Their first “Sentinel” had been run over by a tank. Mike’s group arranged for a donated four year apartment lease, a car, furniture and everything he would need to start his life over.
Since formally incorporating as a non-profit in 2007, Sentinels of Freedom has provided individually tailored assistance to 678 severely injured Veterans, mostly through their “Bridge for Education” program. This program fills gaps in funding not covered by the VA programs. Average investment per Veteran is $55,163. Mike chuckles when he recalls the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff telling him if the government ran a similar program it would probably cost $500,000 per Veteran.
Mike says they are seeking young men & women who have attitude, aptitude and drive. “We are NOT a charity. We are an investment company – we are investing in their futures.” Applicants must have a disability rating of 50% or higher and have been injured in combat or training. They must also express a sincere commitment to furthering their education through either college or vocational training. Veterans seeking assistance are encouraged to apply during the two rounds of scholarship awards each year.
Mike personally meets with each applicant and case managers design a customized plan for each client, including assignment of a mentor that works with them during their entire four year journey toward graduation. They are currently supporting Sentinels in 40 states and have also built six Veteran student resource centers on college campuses.
Many Sentinels have said that, although the financial support is important, the best thing about the organization is the network of high level contacts they can bring to bear.
TAKEAWAY: “The fun part is watching them grow, overcome their injuries and flourish.”