Call of duty: One woman's campaign to help military, veterans

Published on Thursday, 8 May 2014 00:08 - Written by Faith Harper, fharper@tylerpaper.com

Julianne Sanford has never served overseas, but she is a tireless advocate for soldiers and veterans in East Texas.

A military wife and mother, Mrs. Sanford understands how hard the service can be on families. Her husband, Curtis, served in the Texas Army National Guard, and two of her four children and a son-in-law are enlisted in the Air Force.

Mrs. Sanford’s heart is in giving back to those who put their lives on the line for freedom, and no task is too great or small.

With the help of a large network of volunteers, she has given homeless veterans a place to live, taught them skills such as farming, sewing, blacksmithing and water collection, held job fairs for veterans and given comforts from home to active military servicemen stationed overseas, among other programs.

“There is a military culture, a mindset, and many of those people are, of course, your greatest patriots and very educated, proud, brave people, and I feel called by God to serve them,” she said. “Most are so very humble, and sometimes the transition to the civilian world is hard.

“You have to be a self-advocate. You have to work independently, and their training is contrary to that. They are trained to work in a group and work for the best interest of the group, so having a group helps.”

Mrs. Sanford, a registered nurse by profession, started the Lone Star Military Resource Group in Jacksonville in 2008. The group serves as a network to connect veterans to resources in Cherokee and Anderson counties.

The idea came to Mrs. Sanford when she served as a family readiness group leader in her husband’s National Guard unit while he was deployed.

“I have been given a lot of resources for the unit to help the families through the deployment, and I felt strongly those resources and the knowledge of what was out there was really useful for any branch,” Mrs. Sanford said. “I felt like as an active-duty family moving into a rural community, I had an advantage of being connected to these resources and I wanted to share what I had with others, and I wanted the companionship of others in military families.”

Mrs. Sanford said the organization had a grant to provide services to military families and needed guidance on how to use the funds. The grant requirements changed in 2010 to require a volunteer coordinator for the program, and Mrs. Sanford was the instant pick for the position.

“That worked out perfectly for me because I got a job doing what I was volunteering to do,” she said.

She helped start the first homeless veterans home in Cherokee County, when her father bought a home next to his. They rented it out for a while, but when it turned vacant, they turned it into a home for veterans, who pay just enough in rent to cover the taxes and maintain the grounds on their own, including a garden, chickens and bees.

It was the first of three homes in Cherokee and Anderson counties.

Cindy Kline, a Lone Star Military Resource Group volunteer and longtime friend of Mrs. Sanford, said the formation of the relationship between ACCESS and Lone Star was just the beginning of a host of programs to help veterans and military families, and good things are on the horizon.

“The founding of Lone Star Military Resource Group has allowed these other entities to come into being,” she said. “It provides the foundation, the framework and support for those things like the homeless veteran housing, the farmer’s market and the seed sharing.

She helps regardless of the branch of the military or the time served, because she said all who enlist could have been called to give the ultimate sacrifice.

“Every veteran, regardless of age, background or branch of service, is supported equally along with their families,” Mrs. Kline said. “She doesn’t just direct; she works alongside. She is willing to do that to get the job done, and we need more individuals in the community to work alongside her to accomplish those goals and aspirations to make East Texas veteran-friendly.”

Mrs. Sanford said it takes a lot of volunteers to make an effective support system.

The group helped form community covenant supporting the military in Jacksonville, Cherokee County and Palestine, formed a veteran farmers group in 2011. The group now gives back and helps others with plowing and ground preparations. She said giving back is natural for veterans.

“We are always trying to collaborate and work with other organizations,” she said. “The kind of people that they are, they give and volunteer.”

Mrs. Sanford said every day is Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July wrapped up in one for her, but the network could always use more volunteers.

“I certainly don’t think I have the corner on any of this,” she said. “That’s the whole point of having a resource group, we all have something to offer.”