The official description on the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s website states that “Hidden Heroes is a multi-year, multi-faceted campaign that brings vital attention to the untold stories of military caregivers and seeks solutions for the tremendous challenges and long-term needs they face.”
The nonprofit foundation’s goals are to:
• Raise awareness of the issues military caregivers confront every day.
• Inspire individuals, businesses, communities and civic, faith and government leaders to take action in supporting military caregivers in their communities.
• Establish a national registry, encouraging military caregivers to register at HiddenHeroes.org to better connect them to helpful resources and support.
“HiddenHeroes.org is the premier online destination for military caregivers,” the website states. “This first-of-its-kind website includes testimonials from military caregivers who share their personal stories; a vetted directory of valuable resources; the opportunity to join a private Facebook community for military caregivers; and calls-to-action for communities and individuals to get involved.”
Those three key women in Johnson City became involved in Hidden Heroes for different reasons:
Maxine Phillippi has known Dole for 40 years and in conversations learned her friend was inspired by military families she met at Walter Reed Medical Center when Sen. Bob Dole was receiving treatment there in 2011.
Amanda Arwood was only 21 years old when her husband, Marshall Lane, was shot in 2012 while serving in the Army in Afghanistan, and she became a full-time caregiver and now doesn’t want any other caregiver to face the unknown like she did.
Jenny Brock, a long-time leader in Johnson City and city commissioner, was the first person to respond to a call from Phillippi if the city would become a Hidden Hero city. Once Brock learned the full scope of Hidden Heroes, she was not only on board, but she was leading the charge.
Brock said a fourth woman — Becky Haas, the Johnson City Police Department’s community crime prevention coordinator — also joined the group and helped facilitate the necessary networking to move the project forward.
“Phillippi said Dole told her the foundation usually reaches out to cities to become a sponsor city, but Phillippi went another direction.
“I said we’ve got a great city here, we have the VA Medical Center, we have all kinds of support and a loving community and I was sure the response would be great,” Phillippi said, recalling her conversation with Dole. “Immediately called Pete Peterson. I knew he would be in total support and he was and is ... I started calling city commissioners. Jenny Brock called me back almost immediately.”
Little did Phillippi and Brock know that Arwood, who lives in Jonesborough, was recently designated as a Dole Caregiver Fellow to join others in representing the foundation for a two-year term. The fellows are military caregivers who apply to be selected to advocate for increased support on Capitol Hill and in their local communities, advise the foundation on programs and initiatives, serve as Hidden Heroes representatives at meetings, events and interviews and provide inspiration and personal support for caregivers through the online Hidden Heroes Caregiver Community.
Brock and Arwood ended up at a meeting headed by Haas on homelessness in the city. Brock had a chance to address the group and mentioned Hidden Heroes.
“Amanda jumped out of her chair and said ‘I’ve been looking for you. I’m a Dole Fellow,’” Brock said.
That’s when the ball really got rolling for Johnson City to become a Hidden Hero city. While it’s not quite official — the City Commission is set to vote on issuing the proclamation at Thursday’s meeting — Brock said support for the initiative has been overwhelming.
Brock said the whole caregiver plight hit close to home for her.
“My mother was a caregiver to my father, who died many years ago when he was young. There was something that connected in me ... this is the right thing to do. I thought of my mother .... I just saw all this stuff in her as she went though this 3 1/2 years as my dad lay in a vegetative state,” Brock said. “But I also saw how this could represent the kind of community we are ... this is just one of those things that is just the right thing to do.”
Arwood said her husband’s injury put her into a different role in their relationship, but she’s adjusted to the changes.
“It was very difficult to transition from military life to civilian life,” Arwood said. “When you’re in the military, you have all these opportunities and resources that are available. “Johnson City is a great veteran community, but the organizations are hidden. You have to search for what you need. The Dole Foundation makes it easier to find those resources.”
Arwood works at Volunteers of America Mid-State, Johnson City chapter, and already worked with homeless veterans. Now, she can do more to help veterans and their caregivers, she said.
Volunteers of America will serve as the intake point for military caregivers seeking assistance. For additional information, contact Arwood at [email protected], or call 423-461-0026.