After six years in the Navy and 18 years working for a large telecommunications company, Tom Jett never anticipated becoming unemployed and homeless. Likewise, Air Force Veteran Monique Beck struggled to find stable housing for herself and her three sons.
Both Jett and Beck secured housing with help from the VA and VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System’s homeless Veterans program had a unique partnership in the works that help Jett and Beck find the perfect jobs.
As the community employment coordinator at the Ann Arbor VA, I work to create employment opportunities and vocational resources for Veterans like Jett and Beck. In May 2015, as my team was assembling a committee to oversee a single hiring event, we recognized an opportunity to turn it into an extended effort. The result is Hire MI Vet, a community collaboration to jumpstart the careers of Veterans exiting homelessness or experiencing housing instability.
With collaboration from Michigan Ability Partners, Michigan Works!, Rotary Club of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw Community College, the first Hire MI Vet event was scheduled for November 3, 2015, on Washtenaw’s college campus.
To get ready to make the best impression on event day, Veterans were invited to attend a four-hour preparation workshop. There they developed and revised their resumes, participated in mock interviews, were fitted for professional attire through Dress for Success, got haircuts and received bus tokens.
The event featured 22 employers and was attended by 122 Veterans. Beck is one of many attendees who landed jobs—she now works for Michigan Ability Partners as a full-time job developer serving Veterans in need of employment.
“I provide my clients with interview coaching, help them with their resumes and cover letters and connect them with employment opportunities,” Beck said. “As a Veteran who speaks their language, I can share my experience as someone who struggled to find the right resources to help other Veterans get back on track.”
Beck is now applying to a Master of Social Work program, and her tuition will be covered by VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program. She enjoys working close to home and spending more time with her sons.
Also at the November event, Jett met with hiring representatives from JayTec, which led to a position as maintenance coordinator where se has 19 employees reporting to him.
“I am really thankful to be able to rebuild my savings and not have to live paycheck to paycheck, but it’s more than that,” Jett said. “I can truly say that I wake up every day looking forward to work, and I’m grateful to the VA team for not letting me give up so that I could get where I am today.”
These exciting results are just the beginning for Hire MI Vet. We are seeking new ways to help Veterans find employment by recruiting additional committee members and building relationships with new employers. We are also using survey results from the first job fair to make sure future events are even more successful. Five events are in the works for 2016: two networking events designed for small groups of Veterans and employers, two prep workshops and the main hiring event next November.
This initiative would never have been possible without the support of the incredible contributions of our community partners, VA Ann Arbor Healthcare for Homeless Veterans Program, and Compensated Work Therapy (CWT). We’re looking forward to seeing the program grow and providing opportunities to more Veterans in 2016 and beyond.
Learn more about VA Homeless Veterans Community Employment Services and find your local community employment coordinator here. If you encounter Veterans who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless, encourage them to call or visit their local VA Medical Center, where VA staff are ready to assist. Veterans and their families can also access VA services by calling 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838).
Curt Behlow joined the Marine Corps shortly after his 18th birthday. He served from 1990 to 1994 and was stationed at Parris Island, SC. Behlow obtained his Masters of Social Work from the University of Michigan in 2009 and started working in Detroit as a Department of Housing and Urban Development – VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) case manager for two years until he transferred to the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System to work as the community employment coordinator in 2014.