Retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel Patricia Jackson-Kelley (left) and Marine Corps Private First Class Leona Williams (Amanda Scurlock/L.A. Sentinel)

The Los Angeles Sparks partnered with the L.A.  County Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA), The L.A. County Department of Mental Health, and California Mental Health Services Authority to create the “Spark The True You” campaign, a year-long initiative to help women who serve in the military. To kick off the historic initiative, the organizations hosted a Women Veteran’s Summit on Friday.

This event is one of 12 events the Sparks will be hosting to help female veterans, those who are on active duty and their families.

L.A. Sparks COO Danita Johnson and forward Karlie Samuelson spoke during panels with head coach Derek Fisher giving the key note address. Fisher explained the importance of self-care when enduring a life transition, using his life experience as an example.

“What we want to try and help in the smallest way that we can is to help create community through this campaign,” Fisher said. “Today is as much or more about you than it is us because not one of us are here by ourselves.”

Johnson was born into a military family, felt very passionate about the partnership. “Spark the True You” was incepted by a mental health awareness night the franchise hosted last year.

“We worked with the department of mental health and then started a relationship with the military and veterans affairs,” Johnson said. “It was sparked by a really big conversation where we put no limitations to this conversation.”

Samuelson talked about her first season playing overseas and the homesickness and loneliness she endured the season.

“Two, three months in, I was the saddest and loneliest I’ve ever felt,” she said. “I went home for Christmas and one of the biggest decisions I’ve ever made was to put my mental health as a priority and I took a step back from basketball.”

Sparks president and COO Danita Johnson (Center) poses with Fullerton Joint Union High School District NJROTC Color Guard (Amanda Scurlock/L.A. Sentinel)

Among the speakers were Angela Madsen, who is a three-time Paralympian. Having played basketball in the military, sports helped her after a failed back surgery made her a paraplegic. She found ways to participate in the sports that she enjoyed and used her background in engineering to create equipment for adaptive rowing.

Participants have access to a resource and career fair to help improve their quality of life.

The American Red Cross sponsored a pop-up clothing shop for the vets to get new clothes, shoes and toiletries. Veterans could also get a makeover as well as different types of messages and meditation sessions.

“Mind, body and spirit is what we’re trying to go for,” said Stephanie Stone, the Chief Deputy Director of the L.A. County DMVA and Navy Veteran. “Often times, what women will do is we take off our uniform, we take down our hair and nobody knows us from the next civilian standing next to us.”

Bentley-Forbes provided job training for vets in the field of security, aiding them to get a security license and employment.

Sparks head coach and Lakers legend Derek Fisher gives Keynote address (Amanda Scurlock/L.A. Sentinel)

“They’ll get certifications on anything else, CPR, baton and firearms. Then once they graduate, they have a job,” said Mercy Alpert, assistant school manager at Bentley-Forbes. “We are mobile, we go from anywhere from Ventura County to the Antelope Valley to Los Angeles.”

The County of Child Support Services was one of the many organizations at the resource fair. The representatives present to talk about the organization were female veterans.

“A lot of veterans have child support cases and sometimes they don’t know that we can modify their child support case,” said Tina Robinson, the community engagement coordinator for the Child Support services department. “We have programs, like CoAP where we compromise some of the rears if it’s owed to the state of California.”