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Good things come in small packages

Good things come in small packages

By: Joe McClain

It continues to amaze me how something as small as a Heal Vets Craft Kit can be a live changing experience in a veteran’s life. It reminds me of when I first witnessed the huge impact a small gift can have on the lives of those truly in need.

One of my last jobs on active duty with the Navy was traveling with members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Congressional Delegations all over the world. It was a great job and allowed me to see firsthand U.S. Foreign Policy being made. Many times, the conversation focused on the effectiveness of various multi-million dollar aid programs such U.S. AID, the International Monetary Fund applications, military partnerships, etc. But there was one visit and seeing a small local program that was a life changing experience and taught me that millions of dollars is not required to make an impact on the lives of those you want to help. Sometimes, it’s the smart application of a small resource.

It was on a visit to Rwanda. Many will remember heart-breaking history of genocide in that country. The impact is still prevalent, but they’re making a real effort to heal. On a side note, one of the most emotionally impacting events of my life was the visit to the Genocide Museum in Kigali where I experienced that same emotions and deep sadness as on a previous visit to Auschwitz. During that visit and in the midst of an in-depth discussion of millions of dollars of investment from various sources, we took a trip outside the city to visit a small farm run by a single mother with a few children. It was there that I saw firsthand how the right application of a “hand up vs. a hand out” can make in family’s life; they call the “GIRINKA” program.

Not to give tacit approval of the local politics of Rwanda or its President, I found this program impactful as it provided this small family living in poverty with a “cow.” The strategy here was not to provide them with cash or a hand out, but a tool that could help them on the road to a better life. By giving this cow the family was able to start a small business by selling the milk, become more food secure and provide a nutritional source to the children and fertilizer to support planting among other benefits. Through this small and smart donation, they started a path to self-sufficiency.

After discussion of millions of dollars, it was an epiphany to see how the smart application of something small can have on the lives of others. It’s the same with the Therapeutic Craft kits manufactured and distributed to active duty/veterans free of charge by your Heal Vets team. It’s a constant refrain we hear from the vets and the warfighters we serve and their families: these kits have “saved me.”

Like the GIRINKA program, it’s something small that makes a big impact in the lives of those who serve. It’s a tool that puts our veterans suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury, PTSD, Substance Abuse, and other challenges…on the road to heal and self-sufficiency. Completing the kits as a part of a therapy program provides a sense of accomplishment and creativity that inspires some vets suffering from depression to take the next step in the healing process. We create our kits with guidance from clinicians and they are unique among non-profits for their measurable impact. A recent survey of over 2500 veterans demonstrate found:

  • 98% of respondents with behavioral health issues (PTSD, depression, anxiety) said the kits helped them feel better an average of 7 on a scale of 10
  • 75% of respondents with history of TBI said our kits helped them
  • 89% said our kits helped relieve their pain. On average, there was a 63% drop in pain scale when using our kits
  • 81% said the kits helped improve their relationships with family and friends

It’s a “hand up, not a hand out” made possible only through the generosity of you: our donor partners. Pretty impressive numbers for something so small….


Joe McClain

A veteran of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Naval Academy graduate with nearly thirty years of service, Joe joined the Heal Vets team as CEO in Sept 2015.  In the military, Joe served in a variety of operational command and staff positions, including numerous overseas deployments flying the carrier-based S-3B Viking aircraft. After retiring from the military, McClain served as President of the Beer Institute in Washington, D.C. As a national advocate for the brewing industry, Mr. McClain represented America’s brewers and beer importers. McClain is passionate about the veteran and military communities. A third generation service member, he knows the struggles and challenges veterans and their families face, and he is committed to improving their care, healing process and quality of life.  His son is currently on active duty with the U.S. Navy.


CFC GuideStar Great Non-Profits 2018 Veterans Employer of the Year