Major Jas Boothe: President and Founder, Final Salute Inc
The #SheInnovates stories team sat down with Major Jas Boothe to discuss the role of women in innovation. Get involved at She Innovates Global.
#SheInnovates Stories: Innovation is solving the world's problems. What problem are you solving?
Jas Boothe: The mission of Final Salute Inc. is to provide homeless, women veterans and their children with safe and suitable housing. Women veterans are the fastest growing homeless population in the US, and over half are single mothers. I came face to face with homelessness after losing everything to Hurricane Katrina and simultaneously receiving a cancer diagnosis, which left me unable to deploy to Iraq. Historically, the contributions of women in the military have been ignored or downplayed, and this has led to a lack of supportive services when women transition as veterans. Since 2010, I have been not only supporting homeless, women veterans, and those at risk for homelessness, but also started a national conversation and movement to raise awareness of this national epidemic.
#SheInnovates: When did you realize your innovation was a breakthrough?
JB: I realized it was a breakthrough because no one was talking about it. Our country missed it. Before deciding to start my organization, 4 years after I experienced homelessness, I decided to research supportive housing programs for women veterans with children, and there was not one single hit. I couldn’t believe that nothing had changed; I then decided to become the change. Ironically, I had seen an episode of the Oprah show where she had a homeless, woman veteran on, and that’s what lit the fire in me. Then, a few years after starting my organization, Oprah honored me during her tour. I think I realized at that point the impact my work had on a national scale, because very influential people were noticing and supporting our efforts.
#SheInnovates: What were some unexpected obstacles you overcame in the innovation process?
JB: The biggest obstacle was to get people to believe that a homeless, woman veteran population even existed. Neither the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) nor the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) even tracked women veterans as a homeless population, prior to the 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. So, I had to convince people that there was actually a problem to be solved. Using my personal story of homelessness as a veteran helped, and opening the first transitional housing for homeless, women veterans and their children, gave names and faces to this epidemic. The first rule of success in any cause is: seeing is believing. Telling people there was a problem only delivered half of the message, but showing them the problem and a solution helped to make the connection.
#SheInnovates: What inspires you to love your work?
JB: I don’t consider what I am doing “work.” 17 years ago, when I took an oath as a U.S. Army Soldier, part of that commitment was to never leave a fallen comrade. I am honoring my commitment to my sisters-in-arms to be there in their time of need. These women are not my clients, they are my family. Every woman and child that I can prevent from sleeping in their car, couch surfing, or staying in situations of domestic violence is a blessing. The women who go through these challenges and still manage to thrive beyond these setbacks are who inspire me.
#SheInnovates: What do you hope that young women coming behind you take from your work?
JB: Regardless of your background, upbringing, status, or net worth, we are all beacons of hope. You do not need a cape to be someone’s hero.
#SheInnovates: Why are women in innovation important?
JB: Because without Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn or Mary Jackson, John Glenn would not have been able to orbit the earth. Women get sh*t done!
Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.