INDIANAPOLIS — Through her organization, Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans, Jill Fewell works to make veterans smile, feel appreciated and honored.
"They really just didn't get the honor and respect and gratitude or recognition that they deserved back then," Fewell said.
Coming from a military family, Fewell says service is in her blood.
"Those that we have lost, they are kind of tapping me on the shoulder going 'Jill get out there do your thing, there are a lot of people you can really help,'" Fewell said.
Fewell started her organization in 2015. One of the main goals is to connect Vietnam veterans to their benefits.
"Jill is one of those people who is not a veteran, who has done more for veterans than people who are veterans working in the veteran's community," Gordon Smith, Marion County Veterans Service Officer, said.
Smith nominated Fewell for the Jefferson Award for Multiplying Good. The award honors unsung heroes who make the world a better place through volunteering and community service.
"She's always got a project she's working on continuously and she just works all the time. She always does it with a smile," Smith said. "She's very gracious and she's driven to help others."
One of the projects Fewell is focused on now is taking her all across the State of Indiana.
With help from a $250,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment, she created an outreach program to honor and give thanks to Indiana Vietnam veterans.
Through this effort, Fewell has presented the Indiana Vietnam veterans gift to more than 6,000 Indiana Vietnam veterans. The gift is a book that shares stories from Vietnam veterans in their own words.
"Some have never heard the words 'welcome home,'" Fewell said. "So when we present those gifts of honor, they're finally coming home with gratitude and you can see their chest pump up and the tears flow and they're really grateful they're being recognized now."
Fewell recognizes it's over 50 years later, but said this emergency outreach effort is important since a big goal of the events is to also connect veterans to their benefits.
She said according to the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs, there are about 120,000 Vietnam-era veterans in Indiana, and only half are receiving benefits they have earned.
"The VA has added these new benefits," Fewell said. It's important they know what they are and how to get them because it's hard to navigate. There are 17 presumptive illnesses associated with that war, four of them were just added last year."
Another project Fewell is proud of is located right in the heart of Downtown Indianapolis.
"It took about four-and-a-half years from start to finish," Fewell said.
Fewell was the project leader for the Indiana Gold Star Families Memorial Monument which honors families and the legacy of their loved ones who paid the ultimate sacrifice serving the United States.
The monument, which is located in the Indiana War Memorials Historic District, was dedicated on May 1, 2021.
"Just meeting all these veterans, it's like I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, which is really gratifying personally," Fewell said.
WRTV would like to congratulate Jill Fewell, this month's Jefferson Award winner for Multiplying Good.