As we wrap up our Fourth of July parties and gatherings, it can be easy to forget why we celebrate the special day. Here are five Indianapolis-area women veterans to celebrate; five women who have also found themselves in tough spots, but due to their determination — and with some help from Indianapolis non-profit HVAF (Helping Veterans And Families) — they have overcome their challenges.
TINIYA | ARMY VETERAN
Growing up, Tiniya looked up to her big brother. After seeing his decision to serve his country, she decided she would enlist in the Army.
“No one talked to me about college, nobody talked to me about basic necessities of life, so I had to figure it out,” Tiniya said. “I was a kid, and a lot of things I did were just trying to follow my older brother’s footsteps.”
Sadly, last year Tiniya found herself in a position with nowhere to live. Thankfully, HVAF was able to help secure housing for her.
“HVAF had a hotel ready, and I stayed there for about three weeks. Then I moved over to one of HVAF’s apartments and I stayed over there for about three months,” Tiniya said. “Then, they got a house for me.”
Tiniya started in HVAF’s VetWorks program last summer and first received training in the pantry and IT department. She has graduated Phase One and is in Phase Two, and is now going to school for cybersecurity. Next is Phase Three, where HVAF’s employment specialists will work to place her in a long-lasting career.
JENNIFER | MARINE CORPS VETERAN
When Jennifer received her honorable discharge in 2002, she felt lost.
“It definitely was a culture shock. I didn’t have that purpose that I had before,” Jennifer said. “I didn’t know where my place was.”
Jennifer went through vocational rehabilitation at Indianapolis Veteran Affairs last year, and HVAF helped her with rent and utility assistance. After successfully completing the program, Jennifer now has a full-time job at the VA.
“This is something I’ve never been able to do, so to be able to have that chance is amazing,” Jennifer said, “It’s doing logistics, like what I did in the military.”
TANISHA | ARMY VETERAN
Every day, in one of HVAF’s Permanent Supportive Housing units, Army veteran Tanisha is homeschooling her three children.
“They’re on a website called Time4Learning. I can go on there, I can monitor everything they’re doing,” Tanisha said. “I can assign their assignments and pretty much from there, they know what to do. They know how to work their computers and everything.”
While Tanisha’s oldest is her biological daughter, her two youngest – one boy and one girl – are adopted. Growing up, Tanisha always knew she wanted to adopt.
“I’ve always had a heart for kids,” Tanisha said. “When I was younger, I would think, ‘I want kids but I want to adopt as well.’”
Tanisha and her three kids have lived at one of HVAF’s apartments since last fall. In August 2021, the owner of the house they rented decided to sell the place. Tanisha needed to find a home for the four of them quickly.
HVAF had helped Tanisha with utility assistance a few years prior, so when she was in need this time, she knew she could call for help again. Sure enough, there was a unit available for them.
Tanisha said it means the world to her that she can have a safe place for her children to eat, sleep, and learn.
“It’s something that they’ve never really had – especially my younger two. It’s the stability as well as them being in a loving, caring home,” Tanisha said. “And they don’t have to worry about being kicked out on the streets.”
LOLITA | NAVY VETERAN
In the beginning of 2021, Lolita found herself homeless.
“I had nowhere to go,” Lolita said. “So I came here to HVAF.”
After living in one of HVAF’s transitional houses for eight months, Lolita received her HUD-VASH voucher and moved into her own apartment. HVAF helped pay for her first month’s rent and application fees and furnished the unit.
Today, Lolita is in school for cybersecurity. She has this opportunity thanks to the Veteran Affairs’ Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program (VRRAP). This program offers education and training for high-demand jobs to veterans who are unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The HVAF Employment Team provided her with a laptop, and they are available to her at any time when she needs help during the process.
Lolita’s future goals include finishing school and hopefully starting a non-profit of her own one day.
LANE | NAVY VETERAN
Although she served in the Navy, Lane never used to feel like a veteran.
“I’m from Birmingham, Alabama. I went to the VA Hospital to try to apply for benefits,” Lane explained. “They explained to me that I don’t have benefits. So, I never felt like a veteran the whole time I was in Alabama.”
It wasn’t until 2015 when Lane truly felt like a veteran. She moved to Indianapolis for a job opportunity but lost her apartment. Even though she didn’t have luck in the past, she decided to try Indiana’s Veterans Affairs.
She said the man she spoke to at Veterans Affairs listened to her and helped her in any way he could, including pointing her to HVAF.
“I just started crying and I told him that never before was I treated like a veteran,” Lane said. “My family asks when am I coming back, and I say ‘Never!’ Between HVAF and Veteran Affairs here in Indiana – I’ve never been treated as well.”
HVAF gave Lane a place to stay at one of its transitional housing units. Since 2018, she has lived at Lincoln Apartments – a place that houses 75 of Indianapolis’ formerly homeless veterans.
Now, she is very happy working full-time again and living in her apartment with her adopted dog, a Shih Tzu she named Zsa Zsa Gabor – thanks to the program Pets Healing Vets.
“My life has changed drastically and that has a lot to do with HVAF … and me, I give myself some credit for the progress that I’ve made myself.”
Lauren Carpenter is a marketing & media strategist who is passionate about using her talents to give a voice for the voiceless. You can find her on LinkedIn & Instagram.
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