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VFW Magazine March 2017 : Page 21

LEFT: Jas Boothe, founder of Final Salute Inc., with sons Branden, 21, and Jammel Jr., 7, and husband Jammel Sr. Branden is currently in the Air Force and Jammel Sr. is a Marine combat veteran. Final Salute aims to give female veterans and their children a hand up in the form of emergency financial assistance and transitional housing. vets with children. To her surprise and frustration, none existed. “I was told to go get on welfare and apply for food stamps,” Boothe said. “This was such an insult, a slap in the face, really. It became obvious that America didn’t see us as equal to men since there was plenty of assistance for men.” Boothe ended up sleeping on her aunt’s couch. She got a job in Missouri with the Army National Guard. Eventually, Boothe landed a civilian job working on benefits for the Army National Guard in Washington, D.C. While there, she heard numerous stories similar to her own and vowed to do something about it. She later deployed to Kosovo in 2008 with the Missouri National Guard. “It was so shocking to me to learn that so many women had been forgotten by their country,” Boothe said. “We served our country and made the same sacrifices as men.” Determined to make a difference, Boothe took a $15,000 advance on her credit card in 2010 to start Final Salute Inc. The nonprofit provides temporary shelter, counseling, child care and helps find permanent housing for military women and their families. Women and their children can stay at the Final Salute home located in Alexandria, Va., for up to two years. They must pitch in with cooking and cleaning and contribute toward food and utilities once they find jobs. Since Final Salute is privately funded, Boothe, known affectionately as the “Crazy Idea Lady,” founded Ms. Veteran America (see page 60), a competition designed to bring aware-ness to the plight of homeless female vets. Part of the competition is fundraising. To date, more than $310,000 has been raised to help the cause. That money has provided transitional housing for 10,000 days and assisted some 2,000 women veterans and their children. The Ms. Veteran America competition, according to its web-site, highlights more than the strength, courage and sacrifice of the nation’s military women. It also serves as a reminder that these women are mothers, daughters, sisters and wives. “We don’t like to be portrayed as damsels in distress,” said Boothe, who is now married with two children. “We are women warriors and Ms. Veteran America shows that.” no place for her and her daughter, Nayeli, to live. She met Boothe at a job fair. Always helping her sisters in and out of uniform, Boothe got Pena and Nayeli into one of the Final Salute transitional homes. Pena later married her battle buddy, Karl, and the duo were scheduled to deploy to Iraq in 2013. Their hearts were hurting at the thought of leaving Nayeli behind. They weren’t even sure where she would live while they deployed. That’s when they decided to ask Boothe, who didn’t even pause before saying yes, to keep their little girl. “I don’t think I could have made a better decision in terms of where I was going to leave her,” Pena said. “I had absolute comfort at all times about her safety and well-being. I’m beyond grateful.” For Boothe, who is now married and has a second son, Jammel, it was a no-brainer. “I kept Nayeli as a fellow female veteran who saw a sister in need,” Boothe said. “At Final Salute, we are a community, and we’re a sisterhood.” Today, Pena is in school full time studying communications. Her husband is in the IT industry in Virginia. “Jaspen has the biggest heart of any woman I’ve ever met,” Pena said. “There’s nothing she wouldn’t do for female veterans.” Photo bY MIkE MCGREGoR/CoNtoUR bY GEttY IMAGES ReseRVist Finds Hope at Final salUte One of the top 25 finalists in the 2016 Ms. Veteran America com-petition was Chiquita Pena, a two-time Afghanistan War veteran who once benefited from a hand up from Final Salute. Serving in the Army Reserves, Pena deployed to Afghanistan 2009-2010. When she returned home, though, she discovered the company for which she worked in the civilian sector had been restructured. Even though Federal law guaranteed that Pena’s company re-instate her, the firm had instituted a hiring freeze in her absence. With no full-time position, Pena fell on hard times and had Jas Boothe with Anne-Marie Dixon and Dixon’s son, Evan, in June 2014. Dixon and her son lived in the Final Salute transitional home in Alexandria, Va., for two years. Today, Dixon has a new job and hopes to purchase a home in Oklahoma for her family in the coming year. MARCH 2017   • WWW.VFW.ORG • 21

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