Booneville native a finalist for Ms Veteran America
Booneville native Amanda Siddons is a finalist in the Ms Veteran American contest.
As such she is raising funds and awareness for Final Salute, Inc., a nonprofit organization that supports female veterans and their children.
Siddons said she learned of the organization through Facebook friends who are veterans and became convinced to step outside her comfort zone and enter the contest — it’s not a pageant — on behalf of female veterans after completing a master’s degree in social work and working at Hope Campus in Fort Smith, where she now lives.
“I’ve spent the last year there for my internship doing therapy and working with the homeless population, and they keep about an average of five veterans a night there,” said Siddons. “Talking with the veterans there they have no idea they are entitled to benefits and they’ve just kind of gotten lost because they didn’t have the support after the left the military.
“The Ms Veteran America popped up again and I was reading about it and just felt really led (to) support homeless female veterans and their children. It’s hard to find a shelter that’s set up for a woman and her kids.”
Final Salute, Inc., Siddons said, was founded in 2010 has helped more than 7,000 female veterans and their children in more than 30 states, providing more than 15,000 days of shelter.
“It doesn’t stop there. They have three different programs, teaching them how to do finances, manage their money,” said Siddons. “The help them look for employment, they do case management, they provide child care. It’s a whole person approach.”
Siddons said she has grown a lot through the competition, which started in May and has been pared to 25 contestants.
“One of the amazing things about this is all the women I’ve met. It’s very empowering to see all these other women veterans that have done these phenomenal, amazing things,” said Siddons.
“To reach the finals cut the contestants are scored on advocacy, interview, talent — which was a lip sync — and our military history,” said Siddons. It’s not beauty. It’s inner beauty.
“Anybody who has served and done active duty any time is eligible,” said Siddons. “The oldest lady who has been in the competition was 88 and she got second runner-up in the first year in 2012. She still goes to the (event).”
Siddons served 2001-2007 in the Arkansas Air National Guard security forces, including active duty in Operation Nobel Eagle, retiring as a Staff Sgt.
She then went into education — she taught first and second grade and was a literacy facilitator at Booneville Elementary School and was a literacy facilitator for the Fort Smith School District — and is now in social work.
For advocacy Siddons has raised about $1,800 of her goal of $5,000 for Final Salute.
She has an online auction planned from Aug. 12 through 15.
“I’ve gotten some sponsors in Fort Smith and some in Booneville, like Reid’s of course. I’ve got Ashley at Blondies, and some places in Fort Smith like a veteran made a wooden flag, Tip Top Wester Wear. I’ve got a pretty good list,” said Siddons.
The link to her fundraising effort can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/donate/272186863853471/?fundraiser_source=external_url
Final Salute was founded by Maj. Jas Boothe, who in 2005, Siddons said, was preparing to deploy to Iraq from her home in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina took her home.
That was followed a month later by a head, neck, and throat cancer diagnosis and when she went to get help because a discharge was imminent due to her medical condition, “they basically told her to go to social services, because the military didn’t have anything for a single mother,” said Siddons.
After beating cancer Boothe returned to the military and later founded Final Salute.
Siddons said 70 percent of those the organization works with are single mothers.
“Where do they go? Not every place in the country has a shelter. We do in Fort Smith. We have the rescue mission but this nonprofit works across the country,” said Siddons. “Where do you go? Are you going to give up your kids so you can have shelter? It’s not really fair to do that to someone who served their country.”
The finals for Ms Veteran America, which began in 2012, will be held on Oct. 11. Siddons learned last week the competition will be virtual.