BY QUINISHA JACKSON-WRIGHT | NOVEMBER 26, 2018
Sandy Blair’s transition from military service member to civilian mirrors that of many veterans in the United States. Born in Jamaica and raised in New Jersey, she joined the Air Force immediately after high school, where she planned to retire upon completing 20 to 25 years of service.
Those plans changed when she was medically discharged from active duty after 12 years, ten of them spent overseas. The newly divorced mother of two was left unsure of her next steps. She struggled to find a suitable job, often being told she was “overqualified” by civilian employers.
Blair lost her home and eventually was invited to live with a friend. While thankful for the support, she felt suddenly stripped of her independence. Isolated, vulnerable, and faced with countless rejections in the job market, Blair fell into a chronic state of depression. Feeling she no longer had a purpose, she contemplated taking her own life.
“At that point, I felt I had one of two choices: I could keep trying to make a way, or leave the house one day and never come back,” Blair said with tears in her eyes.
Fortunately, she chose the former, and eventually found employment at PB & Associates in Santa Maria, where she works as a realtor. The support she has received at PB & Associates is what helped her launch the nonprofit, Operation WEBS: Women Empowered Build Strong (OPWEBS). Her colleagues assisted in holding raffle events for OPWEBS, and creating the organization’s website and social media pages.
OPWEBS is in the early stages of development, established as a 501(c)(3) in September of this year. Blair’s mission is to build a network and safe haven for women veterans, whose dignity often causes them to shy away from seeking the resources they need most.
“No one ever knows what women are going through,” Blair said. “We don’t ask for help; we don’t talk about [our problems]. If we’re battered, no one knows. If we’re hungry or on the verge of homelessness, no one knows. We take care of people, but don’t ask anyone to take care of us.”
She hopes to change that with the growth of OPWEBS, and help women to empower one another. Blair’s vision is to construct tiny homes, then donate them to tiny house villages across the country to provide shelter for women veterans in need.
The first build through OPWEBS is slated for January 2019. To raise funds for construction materials and other supplies, a live auction will be held at the Santa Maria Veterans’ Memorial Building on November 28.
Blair names Northern Santa Barbara County United Way and the Center for Employment Training (CET-Santa Maria) as two of several local organizations that have been major supporters of OPWEBS. Being the leader of a brand-new organization, she stresses the importance of nonprofits sharing resources to build a collective network for the community at large.
When asked how veteran outreach can progress in the communities of Santa Maria and Santa Barbara, she says she would like to see legislation similar to what is being done in cities like Sacramento, Portland, and Austin.
“[These cities] are allowing tiny homes on wheels (THOWs) to be part of the landscapes in backyards,” she said. “They allow owners with land to rezone if necessary, to create tiny house villages with gardens and even a community center where residents meet, worship, eat, celebrate, etc.”
Passing this legislation, Blair says, would aid in creating a safe and supportive environment for veterans to bond and find their sense of purpose again. And for veterans navigating civilian life after military service, having a purpose is what means the most.