A Helping Hand for Vets
Goodwill offers supportive programs to reintegrate veterans into civilian life.
They have been challenged away from the homeland, but for some veterans, reintegrating into civilian society upon their return home brings its own challenges. Johanna Wagner, veterans services program manager for Goodwill of Central Illinois, works with honorably discharged veterans in 21 area counties to address and overcome such challenges.
“Goodwill’s veterans program is an outcome-based program, designed to remove barriers a veteran may encounter as they are trying to reintegrate into the workforce,” Wagner says. “It’s about more than just finding… employment—because they are probably not going to be able to retain employment if they are worried about other barriers.” These barriers can range from a lack of proper business attire to a lack of transportation to homelessness.
Beginning with a federal grant in 2009 and expanding in 2010 through a state grant, Goodwill’s veterans program includes job training and placement assistance, counseling, educational training and referral services. Many of these services are the result of partnerships established with other central Illinois companies and organizations. For example, Caterpillar presents on-site resume and cover letter workshops. Veterans can find housing through Goodwill’s partnership with The Salvation Army, and learn about available educational benefits through presentations by Illinois Central College. Even restaurants like Subway, McDonalds and Avanti’s get involved, allowing the organization to provide free meals to veterans.
In addition, Goodwill opened Illinois’ only permanent, supportive housing facility for veterans—the General Wayne A. Downing Home for Veterans—in 2005. It offers an “intensive holistic program” that mirrors its services for those not living there.
Wagner attributes the veterans’ program expansion and increased community involvement to greater awareness of its services—also among the goals of the Goodwill Veterans’ Stand Down event taking place on October 11th. “[The Stand Down] is bringing people from all walks of life in the community together,” she says.
The sixth annual event is part of Goodwill’s Patriot Weekend, which also features a benefit run and recognition reception for area veterans and community supporters. Part of Goodwill’s Homeless Veterans’ Re-entry Program, the Stand Down welcomes homeless and in-need veterans to Dozer Park for free haircuts, winter clothes, health screenings and meals. However, Wagner notes the Stand Down is about more than just free handouts.
“We’re educating and reintegrating veterans into civilian life,” she explains. “[They] are required to attend at least two workshops [offered throughout the day], and we provide resources… so they want to seek our services out further.”
From years of experience, Wagner recognizes the steep challenges faced by veterans as they attempt to reintegrate into civilian society. But it’s stories like that of one vet—a once-homeless union sheet metal worker who benefited from Goodwill’s veterans programs and returns to encourage other homeless veterans—that demonstrate the unmistakable value of her work.
“Stories like those are our goal—they’re why we work so hard,” Wagner says. “It’s about giving veterans a chance and believing in them.” iBi
Visit goodwillpeo.org for more information on Goodwill’s veterans programs and the events taking place on October 10th and 11th.