Every year, 41 Realty Group partners with local non-profits. In 2021, our efforts will focus on non-profits serving veterans in Yellowstone County.
This video details some of the work we will be doing, as well as introduces you to the non-profit we will be working most with – Veterans Navigation Network.
Intro: Montana currently has the highest veteran suicide rate in the nation.
30% of veterans have a significant disability rating through the VA.
7.5% of veterans live at or below the poverty level.
Montana has one of the highest per capita rates of veterans in the United States. Our rate runs about 10%, which means we have an incredibly patriotic state and for that I ’m very grateful.
Nicole King: Hey there I’m Nicole King, broker-owner of 41 Realty Group in Billings, Montana. Those are staggering statistics. Every year my brokerage partners with area non-profits to raise money and awareness for their causes. In 2020 we focused on nonprofits working with women and children, and in 2021 we’ll be working with non-profits serving veterans, so that hopefully those statistics will go down.
To prepare for this year’s work we met with about a dozen local nonprofits in October and November. During those meetings we asked where is the gap in services for veterans in Yellowstone County? And how can we either fill that gap or get a really good start at it?
Aside from funding their answers were consistently, 1) getting the word out about their programs and 2) connecting with those who need their services. So then the question became how can we help? One after another after another they told us about a unique and effective newer non-profit and said that if we could help spread the word about them and their services and then raise funds to help them stay in business, all the other veteran non-profits would benefit
I had the privilege of talking with Blake Fuhriman with the Veterans Navigation Network, or VNN for short, a few days ago. Check out our conversation to learn more about their incredible work.
Nicole: The first person that I wanted you to meet is Blake Fuhriman. He is the chairman of Veterans Navigation Network and they’re who we’re going to focus primarily on throughout 2021. Blake, tell us how you came up with the idea for Veterans Navigation, a little bit, about yourself, what (VNN is the initials for Veterans Navigation Network), what you guys do and how you also connect with all the other non-profits here in town.
Blake: Of course so yeah my name is Blake Fuhriman, I am an army veteran — served four years in the ranger regiment and just Veterans Navigation Network was completely born out of my transition from service into civilian life. It was very difficult for me and it is for a lot of veterans to go from this high stress, high-octane environment where you also have the support of all your brothers in arms or brothers and sisters in arms, and you go from that to the next day you’re out you can’t even get onto the military base in many cases, right?
So, you get into that realm and then you move home or move to wherever and you don’t have any of your battle buddies or people you served with in the military and it’s just a complete change of pace. And if you don’t know what you’re doing, which many many people don’t, then it can lead to a lot of challenges. So that’s what Veterans Navigation Network started out of — was my own challenge during that transition.
Nicole: Sure. How long ago did you transition out of the military into civilian life?
Blake: I got out of the military in 2013 and I think I’m still transitioning out of service, right? Even though I only served four years, I mean, it was such a huge part of my life and you know there’s still days that I struggle. Just like anybody would struggle, right? I miss friends, miss fallen comrades — all of that. But you know, that is part of my life, so you never really transition away from that but you integrate into this new world that you live in.
Nicole: Absolutely. So the first couple of years that you were out because VNN has only been around for about two years?
Blake: A year.
Nicole: A year, okay, so you were out in 2013 and now it’s 2021. Tell us about those few years — what were the things that you particularly struggled with? Did you just find that there were no services to meet your needs, or? Tell us about that.
Blake: Yeah so when I got out, I had just gotten divorced. I had three deployments to Afghanistan, one of those I lost a couple friends and throughout the three, several people that I knew had been killed in combat and seeing atrocities of war, you know? I just saw that and then I came home to my family, moved from Georgia where I was stationed, to Wyoming.
And my family, thankfully for me, I had a super supportive family and they were really awesome and tried to help out in any way they could but they just didn’t know what I had gone through. And so I turned to alcohol to numb the pain that I’d gotten from a parachuting injury and the emotional pain that I’d suffered from my time in service. Alcohol, gambling — everything, you know, that I shouldn’t have been turning to is what I was turning to.
So I didn’t have that support or that network and that’s what I relied on and it was pretty disastrous for me just as a person and as a human being to go down that road without support. And not necessarily without support but without support that was targeted and knew exactly what I needed in those times, right?
Nicole: Definitely, and so your experience with not having the targeted support is what birthed, then, VNN, and you’re here in Billings now. So you went from Wyoming to Billings — tell us about that.
Blake: Yeah, so when I got back to Wyoming, you know, I struggled. I looked for other jobs and just couldn’t find anything that brought the camaraderie of the military back or filled the void that I felt in my life. And so I just applied to all kinds of jobs and struggled, struggled, struggled.
And finally I got in a position, a training position, where there was other veterans involved and they really guided me and mentored me and helped me turn my life around. That was in Alabama and then I moved back from Alabama to Montana with my current wife and just realized that that mentorship was so powerful and that I saw a ton of veterans in Billings, Montana that lacked that in their own lives.
And it just hit me like, why isn’t anybody doing this, right? And so, there’s so many great organizations in Montana and Billings, specifically that help veterans. But as a struggling veteran if I went to one and it didn’t work out perfect or something like that, right, I would have just, you know, I would have gotten discouraged. I would have maybe thought well that didn’t work out I’m gonna go drink or I’m gonna go, you know?
For me, that was a challenge. So having somebody to walk that walk with me would have been immensely powerful and that’s that’s why I want to work to make VNN work in the Billings community and I think it will, it’s already starting to prove to work.
Nicole: Yeah it sounds like it! So what you guys do is you have mentor veterans who then you partner up with veterans who are either just brand new to the transition out or maybe have transitioned out years ago and are now needing to plug into the services that are available to them, like Adaptive Performance Center, Dog Tag Buddies, Horses Spirits Healing, there’s — it sounds like basically dozens of different non-profits that they can plug into, plus then the services available to the VA.
And you help them do that with one person that they can talk to who then can help them.
Blake: Yeah, exactly. So there’s basically a constant, right? They may go to an organization for help and it may not be the right fit, right? And so what we want to be is that constant so even if this organization doesn’t work out or this option with the VA doesn’t work out or whatever it is, you have that constant that’s there by your side the whole time and just walking you through that and helping you problem solve.
You know, not necessarily holding your hand, but keeping you accountable and making sure that you’re getting what you need.
Nicole: It’s probably pretty similar to somebody having your back in the military, you’ve got your comrades that are right there that are going through that entire walk with you side by side, and this is essentially what you’re providing for them.
Blake: Exactly, that’s a great way of putting it and you know there’s organizations like Dog Tag Buddies and APC, and Horses Spirits Healing, and they’re all great and they do great things for veterans, but you know at any at any time they may not fit the whole bill.
So you know they all have their individual niches that they help the veterans fill and the gaps that they help them fill but at the end of the day, they don’t do everything, right? And neither do we at Veterans Navigation Network, but we’ll find out who does and that’s something that takes something off the plate of the veteran and helps them get what they need.
Nicole: And their friends and family. Like, your friends and family, when you first transitioned out, I bet they were sort of felt helpless saying I want to help so much but I don’t know how, I don’t know who to reach out to and you can step in and fill that for them. By helping both the caregivers the friends, the family members, and the veteran all at once to find exactly what that veteran needs, and I would imagine it also helps a bit with the isolation.
There’s somebody who’s checking back in with that veteran constantly. I mean one of the statistics we heard is that Montana has the highest suicide rate in the nation for veterans and I bet that constant checking in helps with a little bit of that isolation.
Blake: Yeah, yeah, that’s really what we want to see is just, you know, obviously everybody wants to see that number go down and that statistic disappear but, you know, it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere right now and we would love to be a part of that disappearing.
So checking in on these veterans is something immensely important, right? In the military you had a team leader, a supervisor or somebody like that or even just your battle buddy — somebody who’s the same rank as you checking in on you, just watching your back, having your six, whatever you want to call it.
Veterans Navigation Network may not be able to replicate that completely because, you know, you’re not going to have that same relationship you have with somebody that you cleared a room with in Afghanistan, but it’s somebody who knows what that was like and can provide something really close to that. More than more than a spouse or more than a parent or friend who is a civilian could do, right? Because they just don’t understand that.
Nicole: Yeah, when you sit down with a veteran versus if I sit down with a veteran, they’re not going to tell me the same things. They’re not going to talk to me in the same way they’re not going to feel the same connection with me that they will with you or with any of the other mentors that you guys provide.
You know, another statistic that we heard at the beginning of the video is that about 10% of Yellowstone County’s population are veterans and that’s actually a huge number. If you google Billings population or just Yellowstone County’s population, 161, 000 is what 2019’s population was estimated at. We’ll see what it comes out with the census but if you just take 160,000 that’s 16,000 people right here in Yellowstone County that have experienced some portion of the military and that’s a huge number.
Blake: It is, yeah.
Nicole: Really that’s just, everybody that we’re walking past in the street could be a veteran, right? Statistically, one in ten is going to be. So that’s a lot of people you can’t possibly serve all of them, not all of them necessarily need help.
Blake: Yeah a lot of them could be our mentors, right? Alot of them you know may not be mentors, may not be veterans who need help but they can help in some other way. Really, they’re the community that we live in. They’re business owners, they’re doctors, they’re nurses, they’re the different people in the community that you’d never know but together, you know, the veteran community in Billings — they’re the community of Billings, really.
Just being able to connect that community and, you know, just realize that there’s that family here is incredibly important.
Nicole: And it seems like, so one of the other things that we heard is that about seven and a half percent of veterans live at or below poverty and I would imagine there’s quite a bit of pride involved in asking for help, right? So if they’re going without food, going without necessities, going without housing — whatever it is that they’re needing, you’re a great place to reach out to and get this one person they can talk to and get the assistance they need.
Blake: Yes that’s exactly, with Covid, because we haven’t been able to do that face-to-face mentorship as much, that’s really what we’ve been doing, is a lot of resource guiding; guiding vets to resources that they need and then just being somebody they can call and talk to, you know, and, you know, just help guide them or help problem solve with different things it’s it’s been great to see that we can help even in these crazy, crazy times that we’re living in.
Nicole: I bet even the smallest things are really making a big difference at this point too.
Blake: Yeah, yeah, definitely. Some examples of that are just whether it’s a family in the community that just wants to give something, right? Food, gas, you know, fill a veterans gas tank, something like that, has been incredibly powerful. One around the holidays like we are now but just with COVID and isolation, just veterans knowing that people in the community do care about them.
Nicole: Absolutely so one of the things that we’re setting up is working with coffee shops and restaurants and different vendors to both set up services directly for veterans but also for them to have information about VNN and about all the different non-profits here in town right there and available at their counters for people to pick up.
So maybe they don’t have to make that phone call but they can pick up a piece of paper and have that with them and connect with Blake later. Also several coffee shops in town are creating specials on their menus where you order that and the money that is generated from that special goes directly to VNN to help them to continue providing the services.
That, I would imagine, all that community support helps those veterans feel like they belong, that they’re valued, and the community is there for them.
Blake: Oh, yeah definitely, definitely. You know, there’s a ton of support in the community and we love seeing it come together to support our veterans.
Nicole: We appreciate you, thank you for your service and thank you for starting VNN. I think 2021 is going to be amazing for VNN, for you, for everybody and we just so appreciate you.
Blake: Well, thank you, definitely and thank you for the work that you’ve done and your organization has done on this project.
Nicole: It’s been my pleasure for sure.
Nicole: Isn’t Blake amazing? I am so excited to work with him this year over the next few weeks we’ll be rolling out various partnerships throughout Yellowstone County that will 1) raise awareness for VNN but they’ll also raise funds for them so they can keep serving veterans.
I’ve been reaching out to local business owners over the past couple of months and have been humbled by our community’s support of veterans. So many have generously agreed to have info cards and posters and donation boxes of other businesses. And some have even created specials that when you purchase them, they directly raise money for VNN. We’ve created a tab on our website https://41realtygroup.com/2021-non-profits/ that list all of the businesses around town who are supporting our efforts this year and what they’re doing.
Go there right now to learn where you can shop to support VNN. We’ll also have a direct link to VNN’s website so you can learn more about them next month. We will post a video introducing you to a few of the other area non-profits who also serve veterans and to whom VNN gets to refer veterans.
Make sure that you like and subscribe to our YouTube channel so that you don’t miss that video. Thank you to everyone who has served or is serving in the military. We can never express how much we appreciate you.
See you next time.
Conclusion (Updated To Include Totals From 2021)
Here are our summaries from 2021:
We donated $50,570.61 over the course of the entire year.
– $33,935.11 went to Veterans Navigation Network, $9,500 to HER Campaign, $4,800 to Yellowstone Foundation Properties, and $2,335.50 to the Billings Community Foundation.
– $221.77 was also raised through donation boxes at several coffee shops throughout Billings.
– $470 was donated by Harper & Madison
At least 10% of every single commission generated by 41 Realty Group is donated. The more we sell, the more we are able to give! We are SO incredibly thankful for everyone who chose to use 41 Realty Group to buy or sell real estate this year and for all our agents who worked so hard to close those transactions. These donations are possible because of our clients and our agents.