Writer Shannon Severson

Photography Courtesy of HeroZona Foundation

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]rizona boasts one of the highest veteran populations in the country with more than 532,000 men and women who served in the armed forces in our midst—10.8% of the state’s population. Arizona vets are also among the nation’s most educated: 29.4% have a bachelor’s degree or better, which exceeds the higher education statistics for the general population. 

Despite those statistics, it’s often difficult for vets to transition back to civilian life and fully realize their career potential.

HeroZona Foundation, a non-profit foundation co-founded by U.S. Army Desert Storm veteran Alan “AP” Powell, was established to tap into the deep well of talent these heroes represent, connecting them to job opportunities and providing them with the chance to get involved in charitable efforts.

“As a U.S. Desert Storm Gulf War veteran, I understand first-hand how difficult it can be for vets re-entering the workforce,” says Powell. “My desire to use my contacts for the greater good of humanity, specifically veterans and students, is what led me to found the HeroZona Foundation.”

Powell notes that a lack of resources, education and guidance discourages veterans and students from pursuing entrepreneurship. HeroZona Foundation is working to change that. It has partnered with notable community stakeholders over the years—including late U.S. Senator John McCain, Arizona Electric Power Company (APS), Arizona State University, the Phoenix Suns and the Goldwater Institute— to increase opportunities for vets to be involved year-round.

The foundation’s annual Phoenix Tools 4 School has impacted more than 40,000 students and family members with school supplies collected and then distributed in backpacks at a fun summertime event that drew an estimated 15,000 attendees in 2019. Students kindergarten through 8th grade were given a free breakfast before participating in a carnival with the Arizona Diamondbacks mascot, Baxter, the Phoenix Suns’ Gorilla and ASU’s Sparky, and then receiving their backpacks. Rising 7th and 8th graders had the option to participate in higher education workshops presented by Maricopa Community Colleges and ASU.

“Tools 4 School is Arizona’s largest backpack drive,” Powell says. “We impact over 10,000 families by providing them with school supplies and college readiness workshop. Many of our volunteers are veterans and we have support from the Travis L. Williams American Legion Post 65.”

HeroZona Foundation is dedicated to the personal career growth of veterans. One of the biggest events of the year is HeroZona National Veteran Summit, which takes place each November. This year marks the third year that veterans and their spouses will be able to attend the career fair and a special business fair for veteran-owned businesses. 

“The summit empowers veterans through entrepreneurship, employment and education,” explains Powell. “We had a record number of more than 1,500 U.S. veterans attend the 2018 summit over the course of three days. More than 75 organizations participated in the career and business fairs in an effort to network, hire and do business with veterans. 

“We had a special fireside chat with the ‘People’s Shark,’ Daymond John and HeroZona co-founder, entrepreneur-in-residence at Singularity University and managing director for kittyhawk.io, Aaron Bare. Our keynote speaker was veteran advocate Justin Constantine.”

One of the efforts to employ veterans in the communities where they live is HeroZona’s Veterans Reach to Teach initiative. It’s a solution-based approach to the 1,700 teacher vacancies in Arizona. What better way to fill that gap than by connecting interested veterans and their spouses to serve in the classrooms? HeroZona guides them through the process of earning their substitute teaching and/or permanent teacher certifications.

HeroZona regularly hosts bridge forums, which connect an exclusive panel of police chiefs with community stakeholders. Some forums have included high school students and veterans. At last year’s National Veteran Summit, a special forum was held to discuss ways to better support veterans with recruitment, hiring, opportunities in community service, veterans in crisis and support systems.

The success of the foundation proves there’s no end to what can be accomplished when the community comes together and the skills of veterans are put to good use.

“We receive more support and grow every year,” Powell says proudly. “My plan is to continue on this path. I hope to carry on in educating the public about how we can help our future leaders and veterans through all of HeroZona Foundation’s programs and engagements. We are also gearing up for the launch of our Celebrate Arizona event in February 2021, which will celebrate the diversity and cultural aspects of Arizona.”

For Powell, it has been personally satisfying to see veterans getting help, recognition and service experience within their communities.

“It’s an honor to have served our great country in the military,” he says. “To now be giving back to both the community and fellow veterans has always been my life’s mission. 

“I’m so grateful to all of our community stakeholders and Valley leaders who believe in me and support our foundation’s goals. Our veterans are truly our great nation’s heroes, and they deserve to have the resources and education to thrive when they leave service.”