As executive director of Peak Care Military Network, Kate Hatten knows firsthand what it’s like to move frequently to a new community as a military spouse.

She remembers her own experience coming to  Colorado Springs when her husband was stationed in the Air Force. While she says some people embrace a new environment with no struggle, others find  it terrifying and lonely. It becomes “a huge leap of faith.”

For that reason, Hatten said she is passionate about supporting local veterans, service members and their families.

With a background in local government, she leads the nonprofit that links veterans and active-duty personnel to local resources through a centralized network of information.

“Service members and their families sacrifice a lot,” she said. “I want to make sure the community is working together from a programmatic and systematic level with good collaboration and communication.”

This month, the nonprofit received a three-year, $800,000 grant from the United Health Foundation to sustain operations.

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Hatten sat down with the Business Journal to discuss her plans for high-quality military care.

What’s your background?

My husband was stationed at Falcon Air Force Base [now Schriever AFB] in Colorado Springs, where he worked on Global Positioning Systems satellites.

I have a master’s in public administration and worked in Douglas County as a policy analyst and then as a deputy county manager.

When my husband left the Air Force, we moved to Maryland, where he worked for a NASA contractor and I worked for the International City County Management Association.

But Colorado felt like home and was a place where we wanted to raise our kids, so we returned to Colorado Springs in 1999.

How did you get involved with Peak Care Military Network?

As soon as my kids started school, I began working for the Pikes Peak Area Council Governments and worked on the Fort Carson Region Growth Plan, identifying local impacts of military growth.

Whether talking to apartment managers, behavioral health providers, child care providers, higher education or workforce personnel — they were all seeing the same struggles military families were having.

There were a lot of organizations that wanted to help, but they weren’t talking to each other. So we developed a strategic planning process on what this community was doing well and where it could be doing better. We found it could improve on coordinating and collaborating — breaking down duplication and fragmentation. You don’t want people to be confused about services and want them to know where and how to find them.

So we built a collaborative network. We organized a steering team of 17 people that included Air Force and Army installation representatives, the Veterans [Affairs] administration and military family members.

What we wanted to know was: How do we put all of these resources together in one location? The answer was to build a Network of Care website. It includes a web-based service directory that is locally controlled and supplements information that is military- and veteran-specific. Any organization can update their information and it’s searchable by category and agency name. So far, we have more than 30 partner agencies, including advocacy, financial assistance, workforce, child and family support, and transition and reintegration.

We’ve spent a lot of time building a network of partners that are really good at what they do. We’re working hard to make sure that community-based organizations understand military and veteran culture, and we have monthly meetings to discuss key issues on military and veteran needs.

What are some of the gaps? 

Affordable housing is certainly one, and transportation is also a challenge in terms of people who don’t have access to vehicles and are unable to get to jobs or health care appointments.

But we’re trying to problem solve, rather than complain. Another gap we saw early on was general navigation. People have complex issues and are trying to manage multiple systems.

What we’re able to do through funding and the recent grant is build up that navigation piece where people can connect with us and we can work with them long-term if needed. We also want to do more cross-sector work and outreach.

Do you think local employers embrace hiring veterans?

I think this community generally does. There are a lot of organizations and defense contractors that really understand hiring veterans and hire a lot of them. The [Pikes Peak Workforce Center, Pikes Peak Community College and UCCS] skills gap report revealed that most feel neutral on hiring veterans. That requires more education and outreach, and the workforce center is partnering with other organizations for efforts such as its Why You Should Hire a Veteran program. They also have panels and bring in [human resource] managers to talk about it.

I think hiring the veteran is step one and the next step is retaining them. Veterans are a great asset to our community and provide a lot of skills and abilities that we want to harness, not just in this community but also statewide. Maintaining veteran employees comes with making sure they have good mentorship and support, not just from their employer but the community.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Getting the word out. Awareness, communication and collaboration are sometimes a challenge. Our goal is to do a better job at outreach and make sure people know what we do, how we do it and all the resources working together in this community.

What is your advice to other professionals working to serve military communities? 

Be patient and stick with it. It’s a matter of sticking to the concept and focusing on collaboration. And be true to your gut instincts around that.

What is a misconception about service members?

Veterans, service members and their families are fully integrated in our community. I think people forget that. They may not always be visible, particularly family members who aren’t wearing the uniform, but they’re a very integral part of our community.

What is a fun fact about you?

I am a two-time winner of the Manitou Springs Great Fruitcake Toss, 2004-2005. My husband Greg and I started attending the annual event when we returned to Colorado in 1999. Greg was part of a team that engineered a fruitcake-tossing machine several years ago and was featured on MSNBC. I just threw mine the old-fashioned way.