The Current Status of The Bunker Project

Posted: June 20th, 2017

Nevada Resurrection!

Today our Board Chairman, Kyle Rodgers, attended the Nevada Veterans Council-Monthly Coordination Meeting to begin networking with the local veteran support community that included fellow nonprofits, government agencies, supportive citizens, and politicians. The meeting was fruitful as the Bunker Project mission was well received and fills a needed gap that isn’t already being covered by anyone else. It was great to collaborate and I look forward to next month’s meeting. (See attached agenda)

Leadership Changes:

The Bunker Project has been dark for quite some time, but behind the scenes several important changes have occurred that I am pleased to update you on now. The Bunker Project leadership and board membership passed from the original founders to a new generation. The original founders are Vietnam combat veterans who formed the 501c3. They saw many of the same issues repeated among post-9/11 veterans that they witnessed in their own transition home from war. Following several discouraging years of supporting the organization without any source of outside funding support, they decided to pass on their leadership roles. Kyle Rodgers, a Marine combat veteran twice deployed to Iraq, was chosen as successor to the the Board Chairman. Two highly qualified experts in their respective fields were chosen to fill the other two slots on the Board, Dr. Bob Stanulis and Professor Omar Melchor-Ayala.
Dr. Stanulis was chosen because he is an expert in military veteran mental health and culture, and has been working with veterans as a neuropsychologist for several decades. Although Kyle is a combat veteran himself, his experience as a Marine cannot speak for all other veterans in different branches and job specialties who may have had very different experiences. Dr. Stanulis helps broaden the scope and maintain a level of objectivity. Omar was selected for the Board for two particular reasons. First, he has extensive experience working in the banking industry prior to teaching at the university level, so he is a much-needed administrative asset to ensure that all our documentation and reporting requirements are conducted properly. Second, as a university professor he has first hand experience working with veterans in the classroom. He is able to understand the unique educational challenges that student veterans face, which is the population niche that we have chosen to focus our efforts on.

Mission Focus:

The Bunker Project mission has been and always will be to support military veterans and their families in the most cost-effective manner possible. Concepts for how to go about doing this have changed several times since the Bunker Project was initially established in 2010, however. Originally, the focus was on veterans who become involved with the criminal justice system. The founders taught many courses and gave many lectures to academic, professional, and legal institutions to educate them on the unique challenges of transition from service to civilian society, and particularly focused on preparing them for a surge in military veteran offenders as troops returned home from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is no coincidence that Veteran Treatment Courts have proliferated across the country and continue to grow. Although this education role still continues to this day, there was an urge to do more.
The founders rented an office space in Salem, Oregon with the hope of developing a resource center to connect veterans with service and benefit providers, and provide a safe space to gather. At this time, Kyle Rodgers worked as an intern for the nonprofit during his Senior year in college and suggested a focus on student veterans, so the resource center concept then began to focus on developing a transition center to help veterans connect with and utilize their education benefits.

The center would provide a supported environment for students taking online courses before stepping onto campus in person. This idea was presented to the leadership of Western Oregon University and the school liked the idea so much that they decided to install a Veteran Success Center on their own campus to provide the support that the Bunker Project had planned to provide. Kyle was hired by WOU as Veterans Coordinator to help establish the center. The Bunker Project went quiet since its’ idea was already being implemented by universities across the nation. Once the center was well established, Kyle left WOU to attend Graduate School at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

While working at WOU, Kyle was presented with a recurring problem that effected many student veterans who reached out to him for support, but was beyond the scope of the university mission. Student veterans were struggling to make ends meet with their GI Bill benefits, and many would have to choose between leaving college to find work or staying in college and risking eviction. The Post-9/11 GI Bill does not pay month to month throughout the entire year, but rather only for the time that a veteran is actually enrolled in school. This leaves gaps during Spring, Winter, and Summer breaks that can potentially put a veteran and their family on the streets.

Housing programs for veterans are typically focused on the homeless and operate as such, often with strict programming and other limitations that may not be appropriate for student veterans. Hence the resurrection of the Bunker Project in Nevada to pilot a project in support of student veterans while Kyle completes his Ph.D. in Sociology at UNLV. The newest and most current focus of the organization is to provide housing near college campuses, starting with UNLV, tailoring rent around GI Bill payments instead of the traditional monthly payments required by most rental providers. If successful at UNLV, the plan is to expand to other campuses around the country, progressing from a shared house for single veterans to small multi-unit complexes that can support both single veterans and veterans with families. According to the most recent study published by the Student Veterans of America, about half of all student veterans are married with children.

Fundraising Challenges:

Financially supporting the Bunker Project has proven to be extremely difficult. The pool of wealthy philanthropists tends to be very small, so there is major competition among organizations that depend on donations for their survival. Those who donate tend to support causes that they have a personal connection with, such as breast cancer if their own mother or spouse battled the disease.

A very small proportion of American society serves in the military, so the pool of those with any direct connection to the military is even shallower. Here the competition becomes intensified among veteran service organizations. The concept of ‘gotta have money to make money’ comes into play especially, as the well-known national organizations are able to dominate over grassroots organizations (like the Bunker Project) with elaborate galas, dinners, golf competitions, private and public lobbying, and advertising efforts. The irony is that the money they raise often goes right back into hosting more fundraising campaigns so that little is left to actually support the intended mission, as evidenced in numerous scandals that have plagued the nonprofit sector.

These obstacles (and in Kyle’s case, a lack of available time to invest in fundraisers) have led grassroots organizations to seek out ways to be self-supporting through methods that could be considered profit-driven, tweaked so that proceeds are diverted back to the organization instead of profit-seeking investors and leaders. Las Vegas presents unique opportunities to raise funds in this manner with access to a massive tourism industry. For example, one local nonprofit sells advertising space on bicycles that are pedaled up and down the Strip for a fee that supports their programs. The Bunker Project is currently researching the exotic car rental market and has already applied to finance a 2017 Acura NSX to help generate revenue in order make the first property purchase to begin renting rooms to student veterans at UNLV. Ideally, the Bunker Project would bring in enough revenue from the car rental to support the first house fully without the need to collect rent. If rental income is necessary, having the additional revenue would help keep costs as low as possible and allow flexibility to ensure that rent is only collected when GI Bill housing stipends are paid out, as well as provide for further expansion later on. And of course, donations are tax deductible and always appreciated, so if you’re reading this and want to support us, you can do so by clicking here.