That special awareness of military veterans on which we pride ourselves in Colorado Springs is strongest as we approach Veterans Day. This awareness, along with the volunteerism and grassroots activism that characterizes our community, has led us to respond generously to the needs of the thousands of veterans who call this region home.
We can count at least 50 nonprofits serving veterans in El Paso County. Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center stands out among them. Mt. Carmel is a unique collaborative effort, born of the dream of Jay Cimino, president and CEO of the Phil Long family of auto dealerships. Gina Cimino, Jay’s daughter, serves as the president of Mt. Carmel, with Bob McLaughlin (Col., Army retired), as the CEO.
On a personal note, I appreciate Mt. Carmel, especially the way that veterans (and everybody) are made to feel welcome there. I am sensitive to this because like many other Vietnam veterans I remember all too well the cold shoulder we got from so many of our fellow citizens when we returned from Vietnam.
Last February, I helped to host professor Bill Hochman’s talk at Mt. Carmel, “Remembering Normandy,” an account of U.S. LST 376 torpedoed by a German E-Boat on June 9, 1944, in the English Channel, and the Royal Navy’s rescue of Hochman and other U.S. sailors.
A hundred people showed up to see the film documentary and hear Bill’s talk. The story of shipwreck was serious, but the staff gave us lunch and made everybody feel welcome.
This event was significant because we cannot forget the huge price we paid to defeat the Nazis in World War II. Mt. Carmel is doing its part to keep that memory alive.
On a pragmatic level, Mt. Carmel is an example of the positive things that can happen when the private sector decides to intervene in what is typically regarded as government work — providing social services to those in need.
The genius of the organization is in the partnerships created among diverse agencies with different functions, all with the aim of helping veterans in their readjustment to civilian life. Bob McLaughlin deserves much of the credit for this. Since 2016, Mt. Carmel has directly affected the lives of 18,000 veterans, with the active assistance of the El Pomar Foundation and 40 community partners, many of whom have offices at Mt. Carmel.
The concept is a no-brainer but not often implemented. What McLaughlin, Jay and Gina Cimino, and others have done is to streamline services, bringing far-flung human services under one roof. As I told Bob, I don’t think that a government agency could have pulled it off. Only a private sector initiative, free from the bane of turfism, could have caused the VA, the Work Force Center, the county Veterans Service Officers, mental health providers, and many others to join forces. Recently, the Jefferson County manager visited, looking to emulate the Mt. Carmel model in Golden. This is the trend — create more Mt. Carmel-type operations.
The state of Colorado recognizes the value of the Mt. Carmel model. The Legislature passed HB 18-1343 last May. With other legislators, El Paso County representatives and senators Pete Lee, Lois Landgraf, Larry Liston, Michael Merrifield, Kent Lambert and Bob Gardner sponsored the bill. The title is The Colorado Veterans’ Service to Career Program, a function of the Work Force Centers.
One-million dollars is appropriated from the marijuana tax cash fund for 2018-2019. The money will enable skills training, internships, placement, career counseling, and mentorships. The Work Force Center at Mt. Carmel is doing all of this, and the Mt. Carmel operation is magnifying the effort through its partnerships.
Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.