Oprah Winfrey’s The Life You Want Weekend 2014 tour is wrapping up this weekend in San Jose, Calif. The eight-city self-improvement tour features Winfrey and a host of special guests inspiring and empowering thousands of attendees through personal tales of triumph over tragedy, on-site activities (journaling and exercise breaks) and keepsakes (fluorescent armbands) that symbolize the meaning of the two-day experience.
Special guests include motivational author and Fix My Life host Iyanla Vanzant, self-help guru Deepak Chopra, author and pastor Rob Bell, plus mega-church pastor and film producer Bishop T.D. Jakes. The tour offers a plethora of inspirational stories, fellowship and empowerment to motivate attendees, mostly women, to take control of their lives and create the present and future they want for themselves.
Amid the frenetic pace of the two-day weekend is the presentation of the Toyota Standing O-Vation award, which is given in recognition of extraordinary people who are making positive changes in their communities and inspiring others to do the same. During the tour stop at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., the audience is introduced to retired Army Capt. Jas Boothe of Final Salute Inc., a D.C.-based organization that Boothe founded to help homeless female veterans in the United States by providing transitional housing for women and their children.
Unbeknownst to Boothe, Oprah Winfrey and Team Toyota brand ambassador Amy Purdy honored Boothe on the second day of the event with a Standing O-Vation and a $25,000 grant to Final Salute from Toyota for its outstanding commitment to supporting homeless female veterans in the local D.C. community.
Boothe started the organization after experiencing homelessness herself. While enlisted and stationed in New Orleans, Boothe lost her home and all of her belongings during Hurricane Katrina. One month after losing her home, Boothe was diagnosed with an aggressive form of head and neck cancer. After two surgeries and 30 cycles of radiation, she beat the cancer but learned shortly thereafter that her position in the Army was downsized and that she was out of work. These factors were the perfect storm that led to Boothe and her family’s homelessness for six months.
While homeless, Boothe learned that resources for U.S. veterans, especially women, were limited. “I found out that a lot of shelters for veterans weren’t open to women, and if they were, then they couldn’t bring their children with them,” says Boothe. “Sometimes they had a cap on the number of kids. When I was looking for shelter, some of them would only take two children, and I had three, so I’d have to keep looking or send one of my kids somewhere else. It made a terrible situation worse.”
It was while watching The Oprah Winfrey Show that Boothe had her “Aha!” moment. It came during an episode in which Winfrey was interviewing a homeless female veteran who was living out of her car after returning home from service. Having gotten back on her feet, Boothe decided to do something to help others who were facing the same situation she had faced.
“Awareness is key to solving this problem,” says Boothe, who learned that female veterans are the fastest-growing population of homeless veterans. Most veteran-assistance programs focus more on the needs of male veterans, thereby neglecting the needs of women and children. There is also a lack of affordable housing and child care in this country in general. Boothe founded Final Salute in an effort to solve this problem.
Final Salute, which started in the D.C. area, now also has homes in Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio. The organization has helped more than 300 female veterans and their families from 15 states and territories, which is one of the reasons Boothe was chosen for the award.
“Today was one of the proudest moments of my life, standing onstage with Oprah Winfrey and Amy Purdy to receive a standing ovation for the work we do at Final Salute,” says Boothe. “I’ve made it my life’s mission to give back to the brave women who have fought for our country, and this grant of $25,000 will allow us to help even more homeless female veterans.”
Boothe’s husband, Jamel, calls her his hero because of her tireless efforts to end homelessness among the veteran population. The humanitarian continues to develop a program that includes awareness and prevention, which she feels are key to eradicating the problem. “My ultimate goal is to have no homelessness at all,” says Boothe. “It is entirely possible if we continue to ensure that we value all Americans, including our servicemen and -women.”
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., a media scholar, is digital editor in chief at Grady Newsource and a faculty member of the Cox Institute of Journalism, Innovation, Management & Leadership at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She is founder and editor in chief of the award-winning news blog the Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter here or here.