TAMPA — When Kim Silas left the Army in 1984, she didn't seek support from veterans organizations.
She'd had enough of the military, she said, and was ready for life as a civilian.
For a while, that worked.
At least, until 2007, when she got laid off from her job in the warehousing industry. As a single mom facing foreclosure, she didn't know where to turn.
That's when a friend reminded her of the Veterans Affairs Department. Now, as she gets back on her feet, she wants fellow women veterans to know there are services available for them, too.
"I'm living proof that the VA is working for me," she said Saturday at the Stand Up for Women Veterans event in Al Lopez Park.
Sponsored by Tampa Crossroads and funded by the Labor Department's Women's Bureau, the event aimed to connect women veterans with the services, resources and help they need. It's the first effort of its kind in the state and one of only a few held in the nation.
"In the past, there really was not a large female military population," said Sara Romeo, chief executive of Tampa Crossroads. "Today, about 20 percent of the military is female. The more females we have enlisting, the more services we need to provide specifically for them."
Women veterans often need help obtaining health care for dependents, child care, job training and affordable housing, Romeo said. Those services exist, she said, the women just need to know about them.
Homelessness also is a concern. About 300 women veterans are thought to be homeless in Tampa Bay, she said.
That's one of the reasons why the Women's Bureau placed veterans among its top priorities, said Paulette Lewis, a regional administrator of the Women's Bureau.
"Women are often not aware of the resources available to them or are not comfortable seeking them," Lewis said.
Souna Herolien of Brandon needs those services now.
"It's hard to be a single parent and a veteran out there trying to find a job," she said.
Herolien served in the Army as a cook for six years. During that time, she earned a bachelor's degree in technical management by taking classes online. Since leaving the Army last year, she hasn't been able to find employment utilizing her education.
"Everybody wants me to have experience in my field," she said. "That wasn't possible to get while I was in the military."
She is now studying electrical engineering at Hillsborough Community College in a program that provides on-the-job training. On Saturday, she hoped to find information about employment assistance and child care for her 4-year-old twins and 8-year-old daughter.
Silas of Tampa says the services provided have helped. She battled depression and anxiety for much of her life, she said. Reaching out to the VA allowed her to receive treatment and move on so she can help others.
"I'm at the stage of recovery that is about giving back to veterans," she said.
She wants to empower women and be a mentor to others.
That's something Romeo hopes will happen with other successful female veterans, too.
"We want to create a sisterhood with those women who understand what veterans are going through because they've been through it themselves," Romeo said.
Silas wishes she had known about the services sooner and vows to make sure others do. Since becoming involved with veterans organizations, she has grown tremendously, she said.
"I was a tiny oak tree," she said. "And now, I'm a mighty oak tree."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2442.