Getting veterans back to work
With the job market still in recovery, being a veteran with a disability can make finding work even more difficult. In fact, those with disabilities face an unemployment rate of 41 percent, more than four times the national average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And as more troops return home, the problem will grow even worse.
What can we do to put veterans back to work? A well-written resume is a start, but it’s not enough. The solution lies in finding out what employers want, and then working with vets to develop those skills in a nonthreatening environment – all while addressing the common challenges of transitioning from “combat to cubicle.”
As a vocational training specialist at Goodwill Industries of Central Florida, I work in partnership with the state’s Veteran Administration and Department of Veteran Affairs to support vets in their efforts to find meaningful work. I assess each person’s capabilities for work, and then match them with a 90-day on-the-job training program in Goodwill’s retail stores. Depending on their disability, they might stock inventory, load trucks, list items for sale online or assist with other needed tasks.
Their work increases store revenue, which makes it possible for Goodwill to serve more people in the community with vocational and youth programs. Equally important, participants learn skills like customer service that they can bring to future jobs. And along the way, we coach each person with meeting their goals – whether it’s working long-term at Goodwill, getting hired elsewhere or returning to school.
As equal parts advocate, mentor and manager, my role requires a sensitive approach that respects each person’s limitations while holding them to a high professional standard. The majority of vets don’t have trouble showing up for work on time – after all, they’re accustomed to the rigors of military life. But they might struggle with angry outbursts as a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder – and these are the kinds of challenges we can help them address before getting hired.
We’ve had many success stories. Recently, we hired a vet into a permanent full-time position. When first referred to Goodwill, he questioned why he needed us. But our program restored his sense of purpose, and he thrived during his training. Today, he tells us that Goodwill changed his life – not least of all by saving him from potential homelessness. But the truth is, we’re only doing our duty to serve those who have served their country. To learn more about Goodwill, visit goodwillcfl.org
Vocational training specialist
Goodwill Industries of Central Florida
Stefanie was 5 years old when Word War II came to an end. Even though she couldn’t yet read, she has a strong memory of her early childhood. When Stefanie was 4 years old her family was forced to leave their home in Budapest, Hungary, by Nazi soldiers. They were told to pack one suitcase, and to leave anything they couldn’t carry behind.
Stefanie’s mother, Gisella, dragged a large suitcase behind her. In the other arm, she carried her baby, Juli (pronounced Yoo-lie). Little Stefanie helped balance the heavy suitcase, giving it a push as they slowly marched to the ghetto.
Stefanie’s father was far away at a forced labor camp, where he worked for no pay. He was one of the lucky ones, as he was strong enough to work. The unlucky ones, often the children and the elderly, went to another kind of camp — a concentration camp.
Stefanie had three more sisters, who were all adults. Two were married and had blended into the community. One sister, Ida (ee-dah), had been sent to Auschwitz, a Nazi death camp. Ida was one of the few who escaped, and she survived through the kindness of strangers who hid her until the war was over (she is now 86).
The ghetto was a decrepit neighborhood made up of ancient apartment buildings. Stefanie, her mother and Juli shared one small apartment with six families. Their only private space was a mattress that they all shared at night.
One day there was a knock on the door from a Nazi soldier. He told Gisella that the ghetto was being evacuated, and everyone needed to go downstairs. The soldier told her to bring Stefanie, but to leave the baby upstairs. Gisella was distraught at the thought of leaving baby Juli alone, but she feared for her life and followed the soldier’s orders.
Downstairs was a crowd of people, mostly women and children. The soldiers were dividing the crowd into two groups: one that was strong enough to work in Nazi run labor camps, and a group that was too weak to be useful to them.
Suddenly, Gisella caught the eye of the Nazi soldier who had knocked on their door. Gisella was terrified, but knew this might be her only chance to save baby Juli. She mustered up what little strength she had and put her hand on the arm of the Nazi officer. In a surprisingly clear voice, she said to the officer, “Please brother, I can not leave without my baby.”
The officer motioned for her to bring Stefanie back upstairs, and continued dividing up the remaining neighbors. Baby Juli was napping upstairs unharmed.
I am especially grateful that Stefanie survived the Holocaust, along with her father and sisters. When Stefanie grew up, she came to the United States, married and had a son. That son is my husband, Tony. We have been married for 22 years.
Because of Gisella’s (Tony’s grandmother) brave moment, she saved not only baby Juli, but also little Stefanie and herself. In addition, her courageous efforts allowed the next generation to survive as well. Thanks to Gisella, Tony and I have two beautiful children. One brave moment can change the world.
The case for the down-ballot races
So much of today’s headline news concerns the federal elections – not only the presidential race, but also the contests for Senate and House seats. And of course those are important.
In some ways, however, the races at the lower end of the ballot – your local elections – are even more critical, as they will have an immediate impact on life in your community. The local school board race is a case in point.
For too many years, school boards have paid more attention to form than to function, spending most of their time on facilities and HR policies, with not much left over for schooling’s primary activity—learning. In fact, a doctoral student studying board minutes in Tennessee found that school boards are spending just 6 percent of their time on student achievement!
By getting up to speed on your candidates and their platforms, you can learn who sees the same challenges in our schools that you do, find out what they plan to do about it, and support them accordingly.
The fact is although we do have tremendous challenges in public education, it is possible for schools to excel with the right leadership. In fact, some schools are already doing an exceptional job, boasting student proficiency rates of 40, 50, or even 60 percentage points over their peers in schools that are comparable in terms of poverty rates.
At the Education Consumers Foundation, we see these differences every day. In fact, we have published state-by-state charts that plot third grade reading proficiency rates against poverty rates (see them online at www.education-consumers.org/national.htm). While there is a recognized correlation between poverty and student achievement, one does not determine the other. There are countless examples of high-poverty schools with high proficiency rates as well as significant numbers of low-poverty schools with low levels of proficiency.
Contrary to popular belief, demography is not destiny.
We need school board members who recognize that our schools face challenges, but who also understand that those challenges can be overcome—a fact that is demonstrated by many schools in every state. However, even the most informed and dedicated candidates cannot become a decision-maker without your support and your vote. Your schools will have the kind of leadership that you elect.
So take the time to learn about your school board candidates and other local office-seekers. These races may have just as much impact on your life (and those of your children) as the national races, and you can have much greater influence over them if you get involved.
—Dr. J.E. Stone
President of the Education Consumers Foundation