Unhindered by Harvey

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2017 National Women Veterans Summit a success despite hurricane

Assistant National Legislative Director Shurhonda Love (center) took part in the Veterans Experience panel, sharing insight about her own service and transition to civilian life. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

It seemed there was a never-ending series of roadblocks to get the 2017 National Women Veterans Summit up and running in Houston. After being pushed back several times due to logistical concerns, the event was finally on track for Aug. 25–26.

The event, hosted by the VA Center for Women Veterans and sponsored by numerous veterans groups and corporate donors, including DAV, was planned for over 800 women veterans to attend to discuss critical issues and share in sisterhood and camaraderie. From across the country, participants booked their travel and made their way to Texas for an event a long time in the making (the last event was held six years ago), which promised to be one of the largest gatherings of women veterans to date.

And then came Hurricane Harvey, predicted to make landfall as a Category 4 hurricane on the evening of the summit’s first day. Houston—and the event itself—was directly in the storm’s path.

But after so many setbacks, Center for Women Veterans Director Kayla Williams was not keen to pull the plug altogether. Instead, she relied on the fact that she was surrounded by persistent, versatile and resilient women veterans and went to work condensing two days’ worth of events into a half day to ensure participants could experience the spirit of the summit and still get out of Houston before the storm hit.

“I was amazed at how resilient and adaptable all our on-site participants were as we made multiple on-the-fly adjustments to the schedule as the weather forecast progressively worsened,” said Williams.

Williams said that, thanks to support from the summit partners, participants were still able to view the documentary film “Journey to Normal”—which explores the stresses of deployment and challenges of reintegration—and take part in a “comedy boot camp” with women veteran comedians who stressed how humor can be an important part of resilience. Additionally, participants stepped up and took part in retooled panels and sessions.

“Plans were changing every step of the way, but members from DAV and the DAV Interim Women Veterans Committee were boots on the ground,” said Assistant National Legislative Director Shurhonda Love. “Our philosophy was—whether there were one or 1,000 participants—as long as it is safe, we would do our best to provide them with the knowledge they came to receive.”

Despite the abbreviated schedule, the underlying purpose of the event shone through: Provide women veterans a national venue through which their service could be recognized and their voices heard.

“Hurricane Harvey prevented us from accomplishing all that we wanted to do on site but won’t stop us in the long run,” added Williams.

She noted her staff is currently working with presenters and panelists to create and share virtual presentations and other resources.

Additionally, Williams is walking away from this year’s event with strong support for the VA to hold a national women veterans summit every four years, choosing varied nationwide venues to maximize access to participants across the country.

“The energy and excitement women veterans around the country showed for the summit when it was announced reaffirmed to me how much passion exists among our community to learn about resources and best practices—and to support and encourage one another as veterans,” said Williams.