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To Protect and Serve – Young alumni aid veteran community


Kevin and Corey Downs from the MSMU Class of 2013EMMITSBURG, Md. (November 6, 2017) – One night a little more than one year ago, the lives of Kevin and Corey Downs, both from the Mount St. Mary’s Class of 2013, would change forever. That’s because Kevin, a San Francisco police officer, was shot in the head while in pursuit of a suspect.

Amazingly though, he survived, as the bullet missed a major artery by only a centimeter.

Kevin has worked hard the last year on recovering from the shooting, and he’s thankful for the support he received from people across the country.

“I would first like to thank everyone in the Mount community who sent their thoughts and prayers after the incident and throughout the recovery process,” Kevin said.

Those prayers and well-wishes seemed to have helped, as he was running, jumping and sprinting a mere six months after the incident.

“I am back to work on modified duty, assisting with felony investigations and really enjoy learning a new aspect of police work,” Kevin said.

He even threw out the first pitch at a San Francisco Giants game this past season.

While his outlook is good, with the ultimate goal to return to full duty, Kevin says his experience showed him the importance of having a support network. He says it’s something not everyone who goes through difficult situations like this has.

“Immediately after my incident, my family and I received an overwhelming amount of support and care from the police department, allowing [us] to focus solely on the recovery,” Kevin explained. “When veterans return home from combat, very rarely do they receive the treatment and support that I received.”

And if there are two people who have experienced both sides of this firsthand, it’s Kevin and Corey.

“Since both of us come from military and police families, we have a deep passion for supporting those who serve,” said Corey. “Kevin's brother (Capt. Philip Downs Jr.) who served several tours in Iraq through the Marine Corps gave us an up close and personal look into the challenges that our service members face during their transition from military to civilian life. We have noticed that oftentimes, employers fail to recognize how a veteran’s resume translates into skills that can be valuable in the civilian world.”

The Downses started a nonprofit called Ranchin’ Vets, with its mission to “assist in the reintegration of veterans into civilian life through a variety of programs offered within the ranching and agricultural industry,” according to its website, ranchinvets.com.

“We at Ranchin' Vets want to be that entity, that support system, that our vets can count on when they return home,” explained Kevin, the organization’s president.

Through the support of donors, sponsors and volunteers, Ranchin’ Vets works with veterans to find meaningful work in the agricultural industry. First, the organization partners with ranches and farms nationwide, creating avenues for agricultural employment for returning veterans.

Then, once a vet is hired by a partner employer, he or she is eligible for a stipend for housing, transportation and clothing expenses for up to six months. The stipends come from fundraising efforts and the generosity of donors. There’s even a mentorship program designed to offer support from other post-9/11 vets.

But why ranching? Among the reasons the veterans note are the peaceful and therapeutic work environment, interaction with animals and the feeling of accomplishment from learning and having a finished product at the end of the day.

And it’s working. In one year, the number of veterans the program serves increased by 40 percent. They’ve even had someone stay in contact with them for years through multiple deployments, only to return and enroll in the program. Corey, the organization’s program director, explained, “We have visited [him] out at the ranch, and he has told us that this is the happiest he has been. Hearing that makes everything worth it!”

Moving forward, the pair would love to see Ranchin' Vets continue to grow in how many veterans they serve. “We feel fortunate to have the opportunity to be a part of the nonprofit community and have the chance to meet and work with so many agricultural employers and veterans,” said Corey. “We remain humbled by each of them.”

 
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