Formerly homeless Veteran Michael McKelphin had some hurdles to overcome before realizing his dream of earning a college degree.
After experiencing homelessness for a year, the post-Vietnam War Veteran was able to secure permanent housing through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program. With a roof over his head, McKelphin set on a path to pursuing a college education with help from VA.
McKelphin, an amiable 55-year-old Army Veteran, enrolled at Kennedy-King College in Chicago through the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program. At the time, McKelphin was not computer proficient, and he needed assistance from his younger classmates and teachers to teach him how to type his own papers. But the Kennedy-King faculty and his classmates were encouraged and assisted him, and McKelphin said college there was a “wonderful experience.”
As he neared completion of his associate degree, McKelphin advised his HUD-VASH case manager, Cynthia King-Myers, that he wanted to learn about available employment opportunities. King-Myers referred him to VA’s Homeless Veterans Community Employment Services (HVCES), where he met with Beatrice Smith-Redd, a Community Employment Coordinator.
Smith-Redd provided McKelphin with employment information and connected him with an HVCES community employment partner, the National Caucus and Center on Black Aging Inc. The NCBA offers employment training through its Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), assisting people of all ethnicities age 55 and older in transitioning back into the workforce.
McKelphin was accepted into SCSEP and placed in a custodial position at Matthews Senior Living in Chicago, which interested him due to his passion for beautifying spaces and helping others. McKelphin worked there for over a year, after which his manager remarked, “We’ve never had a janitor like Mike, and we’ll never have one like him again. He’s one of a kind.”
Recognizing McKelphin’s exceptional work at Matthews Senior Living, NCBA referred him for a permanent full-time job with Ada S. McKinley Community Services Inc., one of the largest human services organizations in the country. But before he left Matthews Senior Living, his co-workers threw him a surprise going-away party with catered food, music and dancing.
It’s been over a year since McKelphin was hired at McKinley, and he says it’s one of the best places he has ever worked. McKelphin continues to look for promotional opportunities at McKinley and has considered returning to school to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
McKelphin says he is so grateful for the VA and partner programs that helped him attain success, and for his family who has stuck by him to witness his achievements.
Refer Veterans who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless to their local VA medical center, where VA employees are ready to assist, or urge them to call 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838). Visit VA’s homeless Veterans website to learn about employment initiatives and other programs for Veterans exiting homelessness.
Beatrice Smith-Redd is a community employment coordinator for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, where she coordinates employment opportunities for Veterans in the Chicago Area. She has over 10 years of experience developing and training employees at all organizational levels, augmented by a Master of Arts Degree in Training and Development from Roosevelt University. Mrs. Smith-Redd has devoted her career to empowering employees to succeed in the workplace; she is also the proud daughter of a Korean War Veteran.