Springville native launches nonprofit organization ahead of graduation in August.
Kristen Jones sat in a restaurant, marveling at the stories her grandfather and his friends shared with one another.
The men were of different ages and had different stories to tell, though their stories had similar themes: military combat.
Jones was in elementary school when she tagged along to this monthly meet-up organized by her grandfather, World War II Army veteran Clifford Manuel Jones Sr. His goal was to preserve the community of combat veterans through fellowship, and his mission wasn’t lost on Kristen.
“I became enamored with that community of people,” Kristen said. “My grandfather felt so strongly about his friends and cared about their well-being, and that kind of got passed down to me.”
Kristen’s grandfather has since passed, but his actions and tales of survival during World War II continue to motivate her to advocate for military veterans. That motivation grew over the years as the prevalence of veteran deaths by suicide became a national focus. The issues of veterans suffering from PTSD became personal as her friends from high school that served in combat grappled with the disorder, and as spouses struggled to support them.
The Springville native entered The University of Alabama with advocacy for veterans as a potential career focus, initially aspiring to become a judge advocate general. But with each psychology class she took and through each new encounter with grassroots advocates, her mission became clearer: take a meaningful, hands-on approach, just like her grandfather did.
Over the past year and a half, Kristen, who will graduate from UA in August with degrees in psychology and history, has worked to establish Restoring Freedom, a nonprofit organization that provides counseling services to military veterans and their families. Its peer support group meets monthly and includes recreational therapy like hiking, kayaking and horseback riding.