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Earning It

Serving those who served, the Gold Coast Veterans Foundation aims to improve the quality of life for local vets and their families.

By Leslie A. Westbrook

Photo by Michael Moore

Co-founders Ron and Lisa Greenwood at the GCVF Veterans Connection in Camarillo.

As founder and chairman of the Gold Coast Veterans Foundation (GCVF), a nonprofit founded in 2010 that supports vets and their families via myriad organizations and agencies in Ventura County, Ron Greenwood has walked the walk.

A U.S. Army veteran, Ron, now 67, was severely wounded in Vietnam. “The irony is that when I got out of the service, nobody told me about federal, state, or any other veterans’ benefits,” he explained. “If you have 100 percent disability, as I do, you don’t have to pay for automobile registration. I didn’t find that out until I was 50 years old!”

On January 31, 1969, Sergeant Ron Greenwood was near the Cambodian border in dense Vietnamese jungle with his platoon—one that usually numbered 44 but had been broken down into four units of 11 men; due to injuries and casualties, Ron’s squad included only five to eight men.

“My squad pulled an ambush one night but no enemy came through, so we moved into a deeper part of the jungle to hide out during the day, to rest before pulling another ambush the next night,” he recalled. “One of my men hit a trip wire that was attached to an American grenade. Within seconds it exploded.”

There was no time for Ron to take cover. “I was blown to hell,” he said. “Every part of my body was injured, except for my head and left arm.”

After many hours of surgery and months of recovery, Ron returned to civilian life to attend college and enter the workforce, with the help of the G.I. Bill and the Vocational Rehabilitation Program.

Although Ron was wounded 46 years ago, he astutely notes, “It never goes away, but it is now far in the past.” He was awarded a Purple Heart that hangs amidst numerous commendations and civic awards in his Ventura industrial park office.

Ron’s wife, Lisa, the co-founder of Gold Coast Veteran Foundation, has been by his side for most of his life and forms an integral part of the nonprofit. The couple recently celebrated 35 years of marriage, and was honored with a resolution from the Board of Supervisors of Ventura County for their efforts.

They met at UC Berkeley during bar exams, and both went on to become successful lawyers in Northern California, where they worked on a number of veterans’ issues. In 1999, they sold their law firm and moved to Ventura to open Global Delivers Logistics, a successful distribution and warehouse company that serves as a liaison between manufacturers and telecommunications and electric utilities end users. AT&T—a “very pro veteran” company, notes Ron—is one of their largest customers.

Part of the credit for the Foundation goes to former six-term District Attorney Mike Bradbury, who the Greenwoods met when they moved to Ventura. Mike approached the Greenwoods about starting the Foundation, and with his vast network garnered over years of community service was able to use his influence to get many leaders on board with the idea, including General Roger Brautigan, the former secretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs.

Brautigan asked Ron and Lisa to reach into the Superior Court system and work to get a Veterans Court established. With the help of Judge Colleen Toy White, District Attorney Greg Totten, former District Attorney Mike Bradbury, and Sheriff Geoff Dean, along with many others, the highly successful Ventura County Veterans Court was established. The court provides opportunities and services to make a difference and change the behavior of veterans who have gotten in trouble with the law.

“The District Attorney has to approve a veteran for the court, and the veteran must plead guilty to the crime,” Ron explained. “There will be no trial. If the crime involves substance abuse, they have to be clean and sober to graduate. When the vet finishes the Veterans Court Program they will usually have a job, or be in school, and their court record will be expunged.” That veteran now becomes a productive member of society, so the court is not only a win for the veteran, but a win for the community.

The success rate nationwide, as well as in Ventura, is an astounding 97 percent.

Ron praises GCVF’s executive director, J.C. Oberst, along with a very active and generous board, for all the programs the nonprofit supports. He wants more people in Ventura County to join in. There’s currently a campaign to get 1,000 people to commit $100 a year, and 100 more affluent veteran supporters to give $1,000 a year to reach the $200,000 annual fundraising goal.

Over the last two years, the Ventura County Community Foundation’s Veterans Fund gave away $175,000 to vetted organizations that provide services for veterans. GCVF board members donated or raised almost 80 percent of all the funds.

The goal of GCVF is to “advocate, provide hope and opportunity, identify and support the development of programs to fulfill unmet needs and partner with existing organizations to provide services” for veterans and their families. With an emphasis on housing, the organization works with the home division of Cal Vet, the California Department of Veterans Affairs, and the VA home on Telephone Road in Ventura. Other outreach efforts include college campus veteran centers, like the one at Cal State University Channel Islands, and Reins of H.O.P.E., which offers equine therapy for vets dealing with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

In 2013, the Foundation opened the GCVF Veterans Connection. This one-stop shop provides free space and support for nonprofit and/or volunteer veteran service providers in Ventura County, including over 85 community-based agencies that make up the Ventura County Military Collaborative. The GCVF Service Center is supported entirely by donations, and provides a unique community-based environment that coordinates public and private sector services for veterans.

The GCVF also helps returning veterans integrate back into the community by providing employment assistance, counseling, education, and housing, and it continues to sponsor donor-funded improvements at Ventura County Government Center Memorial.

Lisa Greenwood cites a quote from George Washington on the nonprofit’s website as their guiding mantra:

“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, is directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated.”

“That’s really the gist of it,” she said. “Ron says these veterans are all our sons and daughters. Their willingness to serve is amazing. These people come back and need an opportunity to reintegrate back into civilian life. None of them will be the same person they were before their service”

Lisa praises the tremendous support to date. “Ventura County is an incredible community that’s come together and taken us seriously. The county is small enough that you can really be effective, but large enough to make a real difference. We have a very strong feeling that our vets deserve a break. They need our help, not a hand out.”

Lisa noted that the GCVF intends to expand their outreach northward to Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, to serve more veterans in need. As she put it, “If the government is willing to have them serve—not only those on the front lines, but all vets—they should go to the front of the line and have opportunities.”

Gold Coast Veterans Foundation
For more information, log on togcvf.orgor call 805.482.6550.
The Veterans Connection is located at 4001 Mission Oaks Blvd., Suite D, Camarillo, CA 93012. Please note: The Veterans Connection costs $200 a day to maintain and is supported entirely by donations. Full ($200) and half-day ($100) sponsorships, as well as other tax-deductible donations, are welcomed.

Ron confers with Executive Director J.C. Oberst, a former Navy captain and dedicated advocate for veterans.

The Gold Coast Veterans Connection focuses on care, career development, and education, as well as encouragement and motivation. The model was designed to become a “living, breathing, vibrant part of the community.”


11-01-2015

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