This veteran's recovery journey reminds us there's no shame in asking for help.

By outside appearances, Jake Clark seemed to have it all.

Despite all his achievements — which included work in the U.S. armed forces, law enforcement, the Secret Service, and the FBI — he was feeling suicidal. Most nights, he'd glance over at the pistol sitting at the foot of his bed, picturing himself ending his own life.

He had started to feel this way while working at the FBI, and it led him to pursue unhealthy and even abusive relationships, make futile attempts at self-medicating, and feel prone to anger, insecurity, and resentment. He struggled to connect with others. At times, he was barely present, simply going through the motions.


"I just hated myself — and I didn't know why," he explains. "[I thought,] if people only knew who I really was underneath all of this, they'd never even let me into these agencies."

Photo via Jake Clark.

While Clark left the FBI in 1997 and started to seek out support groups, it took him more than a decade after to find real relief.

When he discovered transcendental meditation in 2012, Clark says it was a game changer.

Transcendental meditation is a form of meditation that uses repetition of silent sounds, called mantras, to bring greater ease, calm, and awareness to one's life. Each student is given their own mantra by a teacher who walks them through the technique.

Through this meditation practice, Clark found something that worked for him. Transcendental meditation helped him establish a greater openness and awareness and was an important addition to his recovery community. Eventually, his suicidal thoughts began to lift.

Reflecting back, Clark realized that much of his struggles had to do with shame.

"You know, when people do something wrong and make a mistake, they'll say, 'I made a mistake,'" Clark explains. "[But] what my internal dialogue said was, 'I am a mistake.'"

Sometimes it can feel impossible for people who are struggling with those feelings to ask for help. "We're terrified to venture out into the world and allow ourselves to be fully seen."

Clark, holding the Eagle Rare Life Award. Photo by Gary Miller.

Clark knew that his experiences weren't uncommon, especially in his line of work.

He'd met countless others, veterans and civilians alike, who had trouble opening up about their trauma. "That's why the suicide rates are so high in the military, law enforcement, [and] first responder space," he says.

Abuse and neglect in childhood was a story he'd heard time and time again, from those he worked with and later as an advocate. "We kept ourselves busy in covering up our pain — by pretending that we're not pretending."

"That's the thing about children who are abused," he continues. "We lock ourselves into these prisons of isolation that lock from the inside."

People in these professions are expected to be tough and unemotional, so when they struggle, they often choose to go it alone. They rarely reach out for help, even when they become suicidal.

Clark knew these wounded warriors needed a space to be vulnerable, dropping the mask and opening up about what they’ve been dealing with.

That's why Clark created Save a Warrior in 2012, a program that supports vets, first responders, and law enforcement who are grappling with post-traumatic stress.

Over five-and-a-half days, attendees at Save a Warrior learn to develop their own meditation and mindfulness practice. This means warriors have to face themselves and their pain head-on and learn to sit with it, even when it's uncomfortable.

"I've seen people work through their fear wholeheartedly," he says. "It's why I keep doing it."

Photo by Jake Clark.

There's also education around the impact of trauma, communication skills, and the importance of self-care. They even watch films and study mythology, exploring themes that are relevant to their experiences and struggles. It's all in an effort to give warriors what they need to thrive when they return home.

But one of the keys to their success, Clark says, is the community that develops throughout the process. With team-building exercises and by simply sharing their stories with one another, these people are learning to show up and be honest about what they're going through. By connecting with each other, they're able to acknowledge and address the pain they've carried, unresolved, for too long.

After all, Clark says, "trauma needs a witness."

Admitting we're vulnerable can be terrifying, especially when we're taught that it's a weakness. But opening up actually takes incredible strength.

"[That's] how I define courage," Clark says. "Being afraid and doing it anyway."

Clark might not still be here if he hadn't been willing to share his story and ask for help. And now, he's teaching other warriors like him — and anyone else who's struggling with their mental health — that asking for help isn't a weakness. In fact, it's just the opposite.

Reaching out doesn't take the pain away, but it does ensure that no one has to go through it alone. And that, Clark says, can be liberating.

"I'm not trapped anymore," he says. "[I realized] the harder things get, the more vulnerable we need to make ourselves."

While a career in the military made him tough, it was only when he opened up that Clark found his true strength.

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Capital One

Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


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Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

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