Today we’d like to introduce you to Jacob Toups.
Jacob, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
In 2009, I graduated from the University Of Texas (Hook em!) with a B.A. in Middle Eastern Studies, Government, and Arabic. My plan was to take the Foreign Service Officer (FSO) exam and work as a diplomat in a U.S. Embassy abroad somewhere in the Middle East. Plans changed when the 2008 financial crisis hit and many job opportunities, both government and non-government, were few and far between. Instead, I continued my education and graduated in 2011 from the Middlebury Institute Of International Studies with an M.A in International Policy and Conflict Resolution. Post graduated school, I left California for a job at an international development agency in Washington D.C. where I discovered I no longer wanted to take the international governmental route.
Seeing a job posting with AmeriCorps in Los Angeles, I packed my bags and took a job as an Americorps VISTA member at Up2US Sports. Up2Us Sports is the nationwide leader in engaging, training and supporting sports coaches to serve as mentors and role models to youth living in some of America’s most underserved communities. For over seven years, I had the fortunate opportunity to grow their Los Angeles branch from ten AmeriCorps members to over 80 and increase their partnerships by over 300%. In the last few years, in collaboration with a grant from CaliforniaVolunteers we launched a Military Veteran initiative hiring military veterans as sports coaches and mentors for underserved youth in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento.
Most recently, that experience of working with military veterans brought me to my current role as Executive Director at Merging Vets And Players (MVP). MVP was created by Jay Glazer, Fox Sports Broadcaster, and Nate Boyer, Green Beret to address the challenges of transition faced by combat veterans and former professional athletes. Each week we meet in four locations (Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles) for a workout and The Huddle, an opportunity for both populations to talk openly and freely about their challenges and successes. To date, we’ve served over 1,000 members in our program nationwide in just four short years.
Has it been a smooth road?
The road has not always been smooth both personally and professionally. I am the first to graduate with a Bachelors’ Degree in my immediate family thanks to two amazingly supportive parents. Both of them valued education and thought it was the key for both my brother and me to not only excel but remove obstacles they professionally faced. Although the degree was important, being flexible to career plans was most important and I learned a lot of that from both of my parents who lost a lot during the oil crash in the 1980s.
Finding my passion is directly linked to my personal obstacles. Growing up in gay Texas was a huge obstacle to finding and embracing my own identity. Although I had all the love in the world from my parents, places like school still created an unsafe space to be myself. I was fortunate to have a solid group of friends, but it wasn’t until later that I came out. Overcoming that obstacle to be myself taught me that I never wanted anyone to go through what I did, being emotionally isolated in spaces where they don’t feel like they belong. Now it’s my personal mission to create places of belonging because once you have that support and connectedness I believe you become the person you truly are meant to be.
We’d love to hear more about your organization.
Merging Vets And Players (MVP) is a program that provides a safe space for combat veterans and former athletes to open up and connect. As our organization grows, we see our nonprofit filling the gap in access to care. Both of these populations face a lack of resources and/or long wait times at governmental agencies for care. We want to be there while they wait and offer additional peer support and opportunities for care.
What I am most proud of at MVP is that we’re taking a truly simple, yet evidence-based approach to supporting these two populations. We know physical activity is great for the body and brain, with lots of recent research ranging from lowering depression to decreasing social isolation. Combining physical activity with an emotionally safe space facilitated by trained peers and MVP staff in trauma-informed practices is a truly innovative tool to add to people’s toolkit in addressing their mental health. We say it at MVP, we are not the silver bullet to people’s mental health challenges but we can be one of the tools you can utilize to feel balanced. These trauma-informed program approaches are just entering the Youth Development nonprofit space in the last five years and we’re taking these same practices to the adult world because we know they work.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
If I had the chance to start over I might have taken some time between high school and college to go straight into the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps instead of waiting. Being of service to others is such a powerful feeling that you can embody where ever you go. I learned a lot in my time through the AmeriCorps VISTA program from the state of our social services to the struggle many Americans face in poverty throughout the U.S. Those lessons I take with me every day which has strengthened my empathy for those I serve through the nonprofit world.
- Address: 8225 Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90046
- Website: http://www.vetsandplayers.org
- Phone: 323-536-9322
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Eric (Doc) Andino