A Closer Look at the Blue Star Theatres' Grant Program for Veterans

My colleagues Michael Gentilucci and Sue-Lynn Moses recently looked at how an increasing number of major U.S. foundations have stepped up their giving to help veterans navigate the tremendously difficult task of reintegrating into American society.

As you can imagine, a majority of this funding is rightfully going to where it's needed the most. JP Morgan Chase, for example, has allocated $20 million over five years, which will be directed toward employment, education, and housing for veterans and their families. Bristol-Meyers Squibb Foundation, meanwhile, gave $2.12 million toward mental health initiatives, including $700,000 to Suicide Preventional International.

But news out of New York suggests that other foundations are taking a more expansive and outside-the-box view of veteran reintegration. Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for theatre, and Blue Star Families, the country's largest chapter-based military families nonprofit organization, recently announced the inaugural round of the Blue Star Theatres Grant Program.

Through support from MetLife Foundation, the Grant Program will fund efforts that "deepen the relationship between participating Blue Star Theatres and their local military community: veterans, children of active duty military, military spouses and/or active duty military." Each theatre will receive $5,000 to support activities that can include talkbacks, outreach programs, sponsored tickets, performances, playwriting workshops, readings or workshops that focus on military themes and service.

The program is impressive in its efficiency. No new capital expenses are required — the network of participating Blue Star Theatres already exists. The money simply strengthens and broadens each theatre's offerings.

For example, one of the four participating theatres is Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Its Veterans' Night Preview Series has become an integral part of the theatre's outreach programming, and one of special significance to the theatre's founders and artists. For each Veterans' Night performance, Steppenwolf will provide 200 tickets free of charge to the final dress rehearsal of each of the five subscription series season plays as well as a seated dinner prior to the performance served by Steppenwolf staff and community volunteers.

Ultimately, the program's true value is the acknowledgement that while reintegration requires access to housing, employment, and quality medical care, veterans and their families also need to simply have fun and engage their peers in a comfortable environment.