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Jacksonville veteran goes from homeless to helping others

Nonprofit started to support female vets transitioning into civilian life

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Nicole Gray learned firsthand from her service in the military exactly what "Got Your 6" means. That military phrase represents loyalty, letting comrades know, "I've got your back." It's that loyalty that inspired Gray to help other female veterans living in Jacksonville -- the city she now calls home.

Two years ago, Gray started the local nonprofit, Got Your 6 Female Veteran Support Services, or Got Your 6 FVSS for short. But to explain why she started this organization here, I have to take you back in time to tell you where she’s been.

Combined, Gray served her country for 14 years, first in the Navy and then the Army. Her military family was her lifeline -- it actually saved her after a very difficult childhood in Chicago. Gray says her parents where drug addicts and when she became old enough to enlist in the military, she signed on the dotted line to choose a life that was better than the one she was living.

During Gray's service as both a sailor and a soldier, she never deployed on a combat tour, but she learned what it meant to be brave, to have self-discipline and channel her inner strength to achieve her goals.

It was in 2014 that Gray decided to leave the military and start a new chapter of her life as a civilian here in Jacksonville. But, transitioning was much harder than she thought it would be. She lost the safety and security that she had embraced in the Armed Forces.

Gray struggled right out of the gate, with a relationship failing and losing her first job in her first month. She moved in with a friend to get back on her feet, but that too was short lived. Gray found herself homeless and living in her car.

She says she dreaded the nights, as she sat parked with her doors locked praying for daylight. For three, long months, she was alone, feeling unsafe, missing her military family and unsure of where to turn for help.

Not willing to accept failure, Gray dug deep to find that bravery and strength she learned in the Navy and Army. She had a will, but had to find a way.

As the military saved her after a difficult childhood, Jacksonville's City Hall would now save her from a difficult start as a civilian. She found out about the Jacksonville Veterans Resource and Reintegration Center and asked for help -- which she got. Almost immediately, Gray received support, help with her resume, career counseling and training.

Within a month, Gray had a full-time job, a paycheck and a new purpose to help others. With a steady income and a roof over her head, Gray launched her nonprofit to assist female military veterans who would also find themselves struggling during the transition into civilian life. Her message: "I've got your 6."

"Challenges may arise for all women once they transition out of the military and there is no manual that tells us what to do once our service is over. Got Your 6 Female Veteran Support Services is here to help bridge that gap," said Gray. "My own personal mantra that helped me through some of the most trying times was PUSH, which is an acronym for Pray Until Something Happens."

“Got Your 6 FVSS offers a number of services to female military veterans including help with food, housing, clothing, transportation assistance and other essential needs. To find out more about the nonprofit, or how you can help, go to www.gotyour6fvss.org.

Gray says her organization is also about giving back to the community that lifted her up. Partnering with World Sports United, Got Your 6 FVSS is holding a community outreach and wellness fair from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. this Saturday at A. Philip Randolph Park in Jacksonville.

Food will be provided by Farm Share and free haircuts will be provided by A&T Beauty and Barbershop. There is something for everyone, including music and sports -- even a Jacksonville Fire Rescue Department truck tour at 11 a.m.

Gray says this community event is open to everyone, and food baskets along with hygiene kits will be available while supplies last. If you would like more information, you can email Nicole Gray at gotyour6fvss@gmail.com.