The featured nonprofit for this year’s Military Appreciation Day at The Players Championship is Northeast Florida Women Veterans.
The group will be honored as the golf tournament salutes the military and supporting agencies Tuesday.
The group helps female veterans get on their feet after getting out of the military. The organization gets them the mental health help they may need and links them with valuable resources to save money, get a career and potentially buy a home. The services are free to the veterans.
Army veteran Ami Ritter served our country in Kosovo, Kuwait and Iraq while having a young son at home.
“It was challenging to say the least in regard to being a female in some of my military operations,” Ritter said.
Returning home was a challenge, too. She struggled with mental health, dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and military sexual trauma, or MST.
“I was a homeless veteran,” she told News4JAX. “I couch-surfed on my mother and father’s sofa and their couch until I was able to find employment and care for me and my son. A substantial form of transportation to get me to and from a job, a home of our own.”
She believes this instability and a rough upbringing contributed to her son’s drug addiction. He overdosed and passed away before his 21st birthday; dark times with a tragic ending.
Ritter moved from Pennsylvania to Jacksonville and said she is getting the help she needs and giving it back to others through Northeast Florida Women Veterans.
“And that’s why I volunteer with Miss Dee’s organization and participate in Miss Dee’s organizations to let that woman veterans know she has someone there to help her along the way,” she said with a proud smile.
Ritter is planning to open a small business as an esthetician in Neptune Beach in the coming months.
The Jacksonville-based nonprofit caters to those who’ve long been overlooked.
“Northeast Florida has the largest population of women veterans in the state, and we are the second largest in the country,” Northeast Florida Women Veterans chief executive officer Dee Quaranta said. “I saw a growing need for women veterans to have services that were unique to them.”
Quaranta, a 20-year Air Force veteran who retired as a technical sergeant, founded the charity 10 years ago as a part-time passion project. She built it in her free time while juggling a full-time job.
“I just kept pushing,” she said. “I went to City Hall. Talked to Military Affairs. I just kept going out and standing in front of people and talking about the need to do something for women veterans in the community.”
Ten years later, she’s amazed her charity is being featured by The Players.
“I can’t believe we’ve come this far,” she said with a chuckle.
The charity offers a wide array of services from mental health counseling to financial wellness classes.
“I have four sons, so being able to come in and get food has been a tremendous blessing for our family,” said Navy veteran Amy Collins, who volunteers at the center as she participates in the programs.
She and her husband, a Marine Corps veteran, lost their jobs during the pandemic and needed an extra boost.
“It’s just organizations working together for the veterans,” said case manager Natalie Marcano-Sidberry. “It’s the most rewarding job. I love it.”
Marcano-Sidberry helps the women every step of the way; her office is filled with brochures, books and supplies.
It’s hard to believe just six years ago, she was in their shoes: a struggling, homeless vet.
“I think my life started declining as I was going through the PTSD,” she said. “I just couldn’t manage the bills. Just normal things that we do as an adult. I just couldn’t do it. I had a job the whole time. I just lived in the back of my car.”
She said she’s able to use her experience to assist veterans who want the help.
“It is work. It is a process,” she said. “And I believe that there is success. They can be successful. They can come out of homelessness. But they have to do the work but there are organizations here that are willing to help them.”
The nonprofit has come a long way -- from a part-time passion to helping hundreds of women veterans each year.
The strong and resilient women who are part of the operation want to make sure every vet in our area can reach their fullest potential.
The group survives off grants and donations.
To learn more or make a donation, visit forwomenvets.org or call 904-862-6039.