By Jena Doyle

At the beginning of this month, I celebrated one year as the HillVets Director of Programs and Congressional Engagement. It’s hard to believe that that much time has actually gone by because it feels like just yesterday that I was moving back to DC!

Since I’ve been in this role, I like to think that I’ve done many things: I’ve met lots of people, have had many conversations to expand the HillVets network, have worked tremendously hard to assist our HillVets House Fellows in lading fellowships and full time positions, have assisted in the development and implementation of two HillVets LEAD cohorts, have planned events, one being a gala that never happened, and have grown our social media presence across all platforms. Not to brag or anything! But one thing that was not in the job description or something I ever would have imagined experiencing, was working through a global pandemic.

Adjusting to the current state of the world has been a challenge, but I believe that as an organization, HillVets has risen up. Though we miss our monthly community socials, we’ve added socially distanced and virtual trivia nights in its place. Instead of educational networking events, we’ve engaged with our community through webinars on interesting and relevant topics. One thing that specifically changed due to the pandemic, was HillVets LEAD and HillVets CAPCON. Our LEAD program, a unique program that focuses on leadership strategies, ethics, advocacy, and personal development, was conducted completely online. Our weekly in person meetings at HillVets House changed to Monday night Zoom sessions and our program reach was able to expand outside the DC area to include veterans and military spouses across the country. Though different than previous cohorts, this group of LEAD protégés were able to engage with highly sought-after leaders in the space and participate in meaningful and thoughtful discussions on the veteran community and policies that impact it. The program than finishes with an event that we call HillVets CAPCON.

HillVets CAPCON is a nonpartisan leadership forum created by our LEAD protégés, and presents timely, dynamic, and ripe for discussion issues faced within our veteran and military communities. Previously, CAPCON had taken place at Gallup Headquarters in downtown Washington, DC, and the Kennedy Caucus Room on Capitol Hill. Due to strict and necessary COVID-19 restrictions in place throughout the city and much to everyone’s disappointment, we were unable to secure a safe venue for this year’s CAPCON. So instead, we decided to host a virtual conference completely broadcasted on Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube, while hosting a socially distanced viewing party at HillVets House.  At first, I thought, “How hard can a virtual event be?” And let me tell you, it’s harder than you’d expect!

When planning an event, there are a lot of details to work out. Such as social media promotion and hype, agenda, speakers, set up, and food. When planning a virtual event, some of these components are extremely intensified because the manner in which you are presenting the content has completely changed. For example, social media and digital communication for a virtual event is even more important because you are broadcasting the event online, and people need to be informed on how to access the event and participate. Though it was a learning process and opportunity for HillVets to reach a new and wider audience, CAPCON was a success—with just a few minor hiccups “backstage”. But hey, the beauty of a virtual event is a viewer probably couldn’t have even seen them!

As I reflect on my first year at HillVets, I think about all the things I thought this job would be and all the incredible things it has become. I am grateful to be a part of a community that adapts to the challenges and unexpecteds of the world around us. I am grateful for the opportunities to grow and learn alongside our program participants and supporters, and most of all, I am grateful for the chance to impact our veteran community one event, one fellow, or one conversation at a time.