Organizer Spotlight: Women Veterans of San Antonio
When Robin Harder moved to San Antonio, Texas, she joined several running Meetups. In 2013, when three foot surgeries over the course of a year forced her to take a running hiatus, Robin decided to look for a different kind of group—this time, one for veterans. Sergeant First Class Harder is an active duty soldier—she’s served in the Army for almost 20 years.
Robin’s search for veterans’ Meetups in San Antonio turned up empty. “There weren’t any,” she recalls, “so I thought, ‘why don’t I start one?’” On May 7, 2013, Robin founded the Women Veterans of San Antonio Meetup. A year and a half later, she’s found over 70 women veterans with a shared vision. That vision, she explains, is to create a place for women veterans to socialize and enjoy themselves. There are lots of veteran support groups, Robin says, but she’s setting out to create something different. “We don’t want to just commiserate, or dwell on bad memories—we want to get out and do fun things together.” Her group gets together every month for coffee, and recent Meetups have included a winery tour, and a trip to see the San Antonio Stars—the Spurs’ sister team—play. “I just really wanted to meet with other military women to share experiences, and have some fun while we do it,” Robin says. “We don’t really dwell on our military experience, but its the common bond that brings us all together.”
When Robin created the Meetup, her choice to limit the group to women was intentional. “My husband is a retiree too,” Robin says. “He served 20 years, and when we’re out together people automatically identify him as military, and come right up to him. He always says, ‘you know, my wife has been in for almost 20 years too, and she was deployed to Afghanistan,’ and they don’t know what to do, or how to talk to me or anything. They never think about women being in the military too.” The Meetup’s slogan, plastered across the hot pink t-shirts Robin ordered for the group, reads: “Women are veterans too.” “There really aren’t groups out there that are exclusively female,” Robin explains. “There are big conferences and things, but there isn’t anything that’s just like, ‘let’s go grab coffee.’ Being part of a Meetup has allowed that to happen, and it wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”
The enthusiasm and gratitude of Robin’s members suggest that she created something sorely missing in her community. Today, Robin is proud to have every branch of service represented in her Meetup—“even the Coast Guard!” “It just seems like women are wanting to find groups or other women who have had those same kinds of experiences,” she says. “Every Meetup, my members come up to me and say, ‘Wow, why haven’t we done this sooner? This is so great.’”
Robin’s not sure what exactly the future holds for her Meetup, but she’s excited to find out. “My members are pushing me to make it a nonprofit,” she reports. As for the more immediate future, there’s plenty to focus on with Veteran’s Day just around the corner. On Friday, the Meetup volunteered at a Veteran’s Stand Down event for homeless veterans in San Antonio. The next day, they marched in San Antonio’s Veteran’s Day Parade. This Veteran’s Day holds special significance for Robin—it’ll be her last in active duty. She’s retiring this year, to stay home with her two sons.
As Robin transitions to life as a civilian, she’ll have the support of her Meetup behind her. She credits the group with helping her come out of her shell, and feel comfortable in a leadership role outside of the Army. “I’m not an outgoing type person, so at first it was difficult for me to be the center of attention in a group setting where I’m out of my uniform,” she explains. “I’ve never been one to have girlfriends, because I’ve always been in the army and all my friends have been guys. But I think now, I finally have girlfriends. It’s been really good for us.”