Like many military service members, Andy Williams also found it difficult to transition back into civilian life.
The Marine Corps veteran spent four years fighting wars in foreign lands. He then worked for a private military security firm in Iraq.
"It was a challenge," Williams said about his transition phase. "And a lot of friction on, like, who you go to? Where do you go? Who do you trust? Who is there today? Will it be funded tomorrow?"
Acting on his own conviction, Williams started getting involved in the local real estate market in Fort Worth and bought many properties gradually over the years.
Turning profits on flipped properties eventually led to the founding of Recon Realty, a residential redevelopment firm focused on veteran reintegration. Williams is the CEO of the public benefit corporation, which provides revitalization and investment tools to hopeful veteran-entrepreneurs.
While Williams, a pioneer in his field of work, did not have similar resources to utilize when he was transitioning back into civilian life, he said, he is hopeful he can be a mentor for the newer generation of veterans.
"There'd been a lot of investment of time, energy, capital and equity in the veteran space," Williams said. "Today, there're a lot of options, there're a lot of offerings, there're a lot of people who want to help. What's changing now, I think, is the consolidation of those resources."
And one such consolidating platform is TXServes-North Texas, a recently-formed coordinated network of public, private and nonprofit organizations serving veterans, service members and their families. It is one of the 16 regional branches of the AmericaServes initiative, the only one of its kind in the nation.
Recon Realty has joined in partnership with TXServes-North Texas as one of its network providers.
"We go into a community, we're already engaged in the community, but there are services that members of this community need that [Recon Realty] don't provide," Williams said. "So, what this partnership is providing is a friction-free platform to be able to identify the resources."
A veteran, or a current service member and their family can access wide-ranging resources and services offered by the community. TXServes-North Texas is data oriented and digitally-driven.
United Way of Tarrant County is the current coordination center for TXServes-North Texas.
"For a veteran coming back from a combat tour who just wants to get employed and find their way in the community and the economy can be really frustrating," said TD Smyers, president and CEO of the United Way of Tarrant County and former Commanding Officer of Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base. "Because they are making a phone call that they get referred to from a 211 or some other source and nobody answers the phone. Or, somebody answers and doesn't get back to them. Then they can lose their way in this morass very easily because there's not great connectivity."
The TXServe network is a strong platform where no military member can "fall through the cracks," Smyers said.
United Way coordinates all the local service providers in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, a piece of the whole AmericaServe nation-wide network. So, in case, a certain service is not available in the area, a service member may be referred to services somewhere else in the nation.
"It's focusing on things less on the programmatic side and more on the system-change side," Smyers said. "In other words, let's bring things to the space that change the environment where people live, work, learn, suffer. This is a game-changer in this space, that's systemic. It's not bringing in another program to the table that helps veterans. It's bringing mortar-between-the-bricks connectivity that ensures all can network collaboratively, additively to the benefit of the veterans."
Since it formally became the coordination center in November, United Way of Tarrant County has reached more than 1,138 clients and answered 1,333 requests, according to data provided by TXServes-North Texas.
TXServes-North Texas has about 40 network providers, which makes it one of the largest network in the AmericaServe platform.
"The community embraces it," Smyers said about Fort Worth. "The community understands veterans here really well. This is a veteran-friendly community. We finally have the connectivity we need and everybody is jumping into it. We want this to be a wide and deep network."
United Way is seeking more agencies that can help veterans to join the network.
The AmericaServes initiative is an effort of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University. The institute first started the veteran service provider network in New York in 2013.
Since then, AmericaServes has worked with more than 25,000 clients. More than half of them requested income support and about a quarter requested housing and shelter support.
"This is a great effort to quite simply make it easier for veterans and their families to access and navigate care and services in this community," IVMF COO Maureen Casey said.
In TXServes-North Texas market, about 52% of clients served were post 9/11 veterans.
"[TXServes-North Texas] is well-prepared to serve those who have served us," Casey said.
United Way of Tarrant County