Brook Harless has chronic knee and neck problems stemming from a training accident with a grenade from her time in the Army. She has degenerative disk disease, a condition that causes severe back pain. And she has many more conditions on top of those, for which she has undergone 40 surgeries, the most recent in late 2018.
Yet Harless is still the busiest person you’ll ever meet — and she does it all with passion.
A certified Community Mobilizer graduate of Grassroots Leadership Academy’s activist trainings, the North Canton, Ohio, resident leverages her talent for speaking and volunteering to support the wellbeing of her fellow veterans. She works to assist homeless veterans and promotes better quality service at Veterans Affairs hospitals as a strike team leader with Concerned Veterans for America.
She is also vice president of her Rotary Club, a board chair with her American Legion post, a member of the board of directors of the American Red Cross governance committee, a food volunteer with the Refuge of Hope Shelter — it might simply be easier to list what she doesn’t do.
What motivates one person to donate this much time and energy? For Harless, it’s the personal connections she makes through her work.
Everyone Has a Story
“I went to GLA classes, lunches, [and] events. I met like-minded people, all with some kind of story that fueled them. They saw a wrong that they wanted to right. It felt good,” Harless said. “I liked it. I just felt like I belonged.”
After all, she has a story of her own.
Harless grew up homeless. She moved from place to place, living in cars and under bridges. No stranger to hunger — she was often forced to eat from the trash and ask for food from drive-throughs — Harless now works hard to ensure others have something to eat.
“I help out with the Stark County Homeless Task Force, with hungry vets — because I was hungry as a child,” Harless said. “We give them a two-week supply of groceries.”
At the homeless shelter, Harless also meets and talks with homeless vets, providing care, and encouraging others to contribute.
How It Started
After years living on the streets, Brook finally found a permanent home with her aunt and uncle. There, she grew up, went to school and eventually joined the Army. That part of her story fueled her current work with Concerned Veterans for America, advocating change at the VA.
Brook has had many experiences with the VA, and many of these visits and procedures were less-than-adequate, to say the least. “The VA treated me so badly,” she said. “I said,
‘This needs to change.’”
So, she began giving speeches and advocating VA reform. “It all started with CVA and [Ohio Field Director] Adam Miller,” she said. And her husband, of course. “He’s always like, ‘Go, go, go!’ He’s very supportive.”
Recently, she accepted a request by the Veteran Service Commission to testify before the Ohio state House. Her testimony helped pass greater support for veterans. “It was nerve-wracking, but I did it!” she said.
With a Little Help from GLA
Naturally, even for a busy woman like Brook, there are limitations to activism. She enjoys being a mother and has become a natural at balancing her family life with her work and her ongoing medical issues.
Brook said the key to the balancing act is knowing what you can handle. GLA taught her how to manage her time wisely to get the most out of each day without overextending herself.
“I love that I can make a difference,” she said. And what a difference she makes.
Everyone has a story that gets them involved. And GLA provides the tools to translate that story into meaningful change, like Brook has. To learn how to make a difference, check out these Grassroots Leadership Certifications to hone your activist skills.