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Pioneer and KLI Board Member Shares Her Passion for Military Women in Need

Posted January 14, 2016 in KLI Community, News

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By Jeremy Anderson ‘19

This Veterans Day, Claremont McKenna College (CMC) students, parents, faculty, and alumni gathered at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum to hear KLI Advisory Board member Meredith Brenalvirez ‘80 speak about her service on the Board of Directors at Military Woman in Need (MWIN), the leading non-profit serving women Veterans and survivors of Veterans in California. Meredith is a member of the first class of women at CMC – the Pioneer Class, served as the school’s first woman Senior Class President, and earned a degree in Economics and Political Science.  This pioneer spirit is evident in Meredith’s 20+ years of service at MWIN and her infectious passion for our country’s military women.

Meredith shared with the audience the unconventional path she took after graduation, and which ultimately lead her to MWIN. After graduating Meredith worked in advertising in New York for five years but then returned to California to pursue a career in commercial real estate. A little over ten years after graduating from CMC, Meredith was busy working and ready to start a family when she was contacted by a CMC alum who she had met, but not talked to since, attending CMC. He told her about a non-profit organization, MWIN, he and several male alumni were involved with. He expressed a desire for Meredith to be the first CMC woman to join their pursuits. She agreed, and never looked back.

Meredith has remained at MWIN because she believes whole-heartedly in serving the country’s Veterans, an enthusiasm that permeated her talk. She wants citizens to be informed and connected to our country’s service members and emphasized the huge load that this population and their families bear on behalf of the rest of us. Meredith expressed, “If you were to call society a building, I would say that the military is one of the load-bearing parts.”

Meredith then focused on a critical, and often ignored, segment of the military population: women. She explained that from the beginning women have fought for our country, often going unrecognized, for the same reasons men have: a love of country, a sense of duty, and an unwillingness to sit on the sidelines and watch other people fight.

In 1994 fewer than 4% of veterans were women, a figure that abruptly changed after the 9/11 attacks when record numbers of women enlisted in the military. Now nearly 10% of Veterans are women, rendering them a critical mass for the first time in U.S. military history. However, the need to serve women Veterans and survivors of Veterans is not new.

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When it was founded in 1921, MWIN owned property in Southern California, which it utilized to provide shelter to only a handful of military women in need, primarily widows of those who served and mothers of those who were lost in the name of our country. Much later in the century as property values surged, MWIN were able to sell at a profit. This newly gained capital allowed MWIN to serve a much larger population of Military women, Veterans and survivors of Veterans, through monthly housing subsidies.

Following 9/11, Military women, while growing in number, were also younger and more likely to have children. Today, women veterans are widely seen as the most underserved of all veteran populations. MWIN’s foresight and flexibility allowed them to successfully meet the changing and growing demands of the population they serve. MWIN added emergency subsidies, referrals to services from other community organizations, and supportive home visits to their assistance program.

MWIN also focuses on building collaborative relationships with the dozens of agencies, universities, and government workers who also serve this niche. For example, MWIN partners with LA County’s Veteran’s headquarters, serving as lead advisor on all issues and procedures relating to the country’s largest concentration of female Veterans. Meredith emphasized the importance of these partnerships in enhancing MWIN’s credibility and visibility, and ultimately it’s ability to accomplish it’s mission: empower female veterans and survivors of veterans to live their lives with independence and dignity.

Through MWIN and Meredith’s pioneering vision, Military women in the Southern California area have greater access than ever before to the aid and resources they deserve. Meredith never expected to find herself as an advocate for Military women, but it is a sense of duty she now embraces. She serves them because they have served us. And she asks, which of us will join this effort?

If you are interested in working with MWIN contact Meredith at mbrenalvirez@MilitaryWomenInNeed.org