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A hand up for Orange County veterans

A hand up for Orange County veterans

Hiring returning military personnel is the best way to support those who have served our country.

Veterans Day presents the perfect opportunity to reflect on the challenges facing those who have served our country— particularly those returning to Orange County from service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Topping the list is their transition to civilian life, and finding gainful employment to provide a stable life for themselves and their families.

One promising new approach is the Enduring Independence Veterans Initiative recently launched by Goodwill of Orange County to support veterans working to establish their lives outside the military. Enduring Independence addresses the spectrum of veteran needs through preparation, financial independence and wellness.

“The need here is real, says Jenna Lombardo, program director of the Enduring Independence initiative. “Orange County is home to the third-largest veteran population in the state and with the draw down in full swing and major military installations in our backyard, it is common for transitioning service members to want to build their future here.”

Employment is imperative for veterans to establish their independent civilian lives, yet current statistics are grim.

“Finding a job is the only entry point for a young veteran to create financial independence and start building a sustainable future,” Lombardo says. “Unfortunately, securing employment has proven to be a major obstacle: The unemployment rate of veterans ages 18 to 25 is estimated to be about 20 percent.”

Enduring Independence helps employers recognize what veterans bring to the table as new hires. Their military experience gives them valuable skills such as leadership, composure, discipline, creativity under pressure and integrity—qualities that all businesses look for in new employees.

“Many people assume that the government provides safeguards and programs to help veterans in transition,” Lombardo says. “While this is true, we also know that there are many gaps that need to be filled after service members transition, and that’s where Enduring Independence comes in.” 

While the work of nonprofits like Goodwill Industries is helping veterans navigate their journey from military to civilian life, the ultimate transition to civilian employment is not achievable without an essential ingredient: local businesses.

“We need businesses to make a conscious effort to hire veterans,” Lombardo says.  “It’s a smart business decision, not because it’s altruistic or patriotic, but because of the leadership skills they bring to the workplace.”

Nothing we do can adequately repay our veterans for their service and their sacrifice. But everything we do will reflect our respect and our gratitude for their selfless contributions to our nation, our people and our freedom.

 To learn more about how you can play a role in providing support to Orange County’s community of veterans, visit Nonprofit Central.

Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at [email protected].

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