Duval County

‘I have been able to turn my life around’: Nonprofit helping female veterans in our area

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — As The PLAYERS Championship celebrates Military Appreciation Day, Action News Jax is shining a spotlight on its charity of the day and the incredible women who make it happen.

Northeast Florida Women Veterans helps fellow female vets who are struggling to make the transition to civilian life by setting them up for success. Whether it’s for groceries or just some uplifting support, the women at this nonprofit have your back.

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“Our accomplishments are more about the individual woman who comes back and says, ‘I was on the verge of suicide before I walked in the door, and I have been able to turn my life around because of the help that I got from the organization,’” Dee Quarante said. She founded Northeast Florida Women Veterans in 2012.

Quarante is a 20-year Air Force veteran. She said on average, they help about 300 women each year. One woman stands out to her.

“She’s a ball of fire,” Quarante said. “She came to us, and I’ll let her tell her story, but she’s the hardest working case manager I have ever seen.”

Natalie Marcano-Sidberry came to Northeast Florida Women Veterans in 2016. Her bubbly personality and big smile are infectious. But she’s had her fair share of hard times.

“I was still working full-time,” Marcano-Sidberry said. “I was a soccer mom. Team manager for the soccer team. Just trying to live life regularly. Just couldn’t find a place or couldn’t come up with a deposit.”

Marcano-Sidberry is a Navy veteran. She was sexually assaulted while overseas. The transition to civilian life was incredibly difficult for her.

“It was mental health challenges that a lot of us female veterans don’t want to face because we’re too busy parenting, too busy taking care of everyone else except for ourselves.”

The nonprofit helped her in more ways than one. Marcano-Sidberry was able to get mental health resources and financial assistance from HUD. After 10 months, she was able to move to a better neighborhood. She started volunteering at Northeast Florida Women Veterans, and she’s now a full-time case manager.

“Hearing their (veterans) stories about the military. Hearing how they’re trying to thrive and then watching them, from the process of feeling hopeless to watching them just be successful,” Marcano-Sidberry said. “Sometimes, I just tear up, and I’m like, ‘oh my god, I had a part in that journey!’”

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While her path was not always as bright as it is now, her difficulties are what make her a great case manager. She has been able to help hundreds of women in similar situations.

It’s success stories like Marcano-Sidberry’s, that are the reason Dee Quarante started this nonprofit.

“We’ve had some accolades and awards and things like that, but they don’t measure to having saved a life,” Quarante said. “They don’t measure.”

Right now, the nonprofit could use your help. Quarante said funds are always a good way to show your support. Gift cards for gas or grocery supplies are also needed. You can also donate cleaning products.

If you plan to drop off products in person, please call ahead of time. You can also donate funds online: https://www.forwomenvets.org/.