Monthly Archives

November 2016

Member Org Spotlight: American Red Cross

IJF is committed to supporting and uplifting our member organizations, and this includes highlighting the important and innovative work they are doing every day. We will be profiling member organizations on our blog through an ongoing series. We hope to inspire conversation and connection between member organizations, the communities they serve, and anyone else who is passionate about ensuring no veteran, service member, or family member falls through the cracks.

The Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program supports military personnel, veterans, and their families. We sat down with Regional Director Hilary Duerksen to talk about their Reconnection Workshops and how what motivates Red Cross volunteers.

What are reconnection workshops?

Reconnection Workshops are a small group session where people talk about all sorts of things. Workshops focus on learning useful tools such as working through anger and effective coping mechanisms. In general, the topics focus on the transition out of the military to back home.

Who are these workshops meant for?

They are meant for people who are just back from deployment, veterans from all eras, their families and people who work with veterans.  We use a very ‘loose’ definition for family- if they are an important support for the veteran, then they count.  The workshops are very versatile.

Do you have any recent stories from a reconnection workshop that made you smile?

After a workshop in Peoria we got a call around midnight from one of the people who was in the session. That person said he didn’t feel suicidal, but he felt helpless and out of control. After the call, the veteran said he was feeling much better. He developed a plan to work through some of these issues, and is going to seek counseling.

So what would you say is one of the biggest benefits of these workshops?

The workshops help people build up the courage to pick up the phone and take that initial step to get help. They start conversations and they also help people realize who they can go to for larger needs.

How can people help out with these programs, do you take volunteers?

Yes! All of our programs rely on volunteers. Beginning very early of 2017 we will be training new facilitators for reconnection workshops. We are looking for licensed clinicians to volunteer. Email Hilary Duerksen if you are interested:

Do you have any veteran volunteers?

Many of our volunteers in all of our programs are veterans.

Why do you think that is?

I believe we have many veteran volunteers because they want to continue to serve.  That desire doesn’t end when they leave the military and the Red Cross is a recognized and universal place where they can continue to give back to their community. We also have a lot of volunteers who are not veterans, but who see volunteering with us as their way of serving their country.


Thank you so much to Hilary for chatting with us about Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces. Check out Red Cross Chicago on Facebook, Twitter, or their website. Check out the Military Family Services page here. 

Are you a member org that would like to take the spotlight on the IJF blog? Let’s chat! Email:















































Guest Post: From Boots to Books

Boots to Books

By Jorge Hernandez

From a Green Beret to an Air Bourne Ranger, North Central College in Naperville, Ill., has every branch of military service represented in its student body. And for a small, private liberal arts institution comprised of more than 2,800 undergraduate and graduate students, that’s saying something. For me it says that the College is a place where military students and veterans can successfully make the transition from “boots to books.”

I’ll admit that when I came to North Central College as an undergraduate student after serving in the U.S. Army, it was the picturesque campus, ease of transportation and variety of campus amenities that initially drew me in. What I have unexpectedly discovered is the deep sense of community here among students, staff and professors – particularly professors who are themselves veterans. I think that’s why the College in part has been recognized as a “Military- Friendly School” by G.I. Jobs Magazine, along with many other accolades and national rankings. North Central College is a place that allows me to live out my personal mission – to assist veterans and military-connected students’ transition from fighting wars to battling curricula. That’s why I’ve returned to the College to earn a master’s degree in liberal studies.

North Central College is also one of a few schools that turns Veterans Day into a full “appreciation week.” Campus activities include having lunch with the College president, initiating a “moment of silence” to remember those who’ve lost their lives in active duty, networking and social time, halftime recognition during a football game, free tickets to fine art performances and so much more. Many of these activities are coordinated by Julie Carballo, who coordinates veteran and military student services. She is someone with whom student-veterans can count on for consistent and unwavering support and guidance from the admission process to graduation.

We’re not just a number, as I’ve heard others say about their schools. There are a lot of combat vets at North Central College who understand one another and who are eager to meet with military students. I haven’t encountered the “angry veteran” stereotype here, and no one seems to feel weird about having me in class. Instead, I’ve been welcomed and encouraged to contribute as a leader – a message enhanced by alumni like John Stolze.

“Student-veterans need to understand that what they did in the military will enhance any business they work for …,” says Stolz, an alum of North Central College’s M.B.A. program who served for six years in the U.S. Navy. Stolz provides personal career counseling and, along with his wife, Karen, have established a veteran scholarship fund for students whose G.I. bill has expired.

Veterans’ accomplishments are celebrated at the College’s annual Hail & Farewell Banquet. This past spring, Stolz gave each graduating veteran a challenge coin, which is a military tradition. “These are inscribed with three words: honor, commitment and courage. If one lives by these words across their career, they cannot help but be successful,” he said.

North Central College recognizes the significant value that student-veterans bring to campus. Whether it’s participation in the SALUTE national honor society or accessing resources provided by the College’s Center for Academic Success, student veterans at North Central College gain not only the valuable tools for a successful educational experience but also skills for life.

About the author:
After serving in the U.S. Army from 2012-2015 as an artillery man,  Jorge Hernandez enrolled in North Central College’s specialized Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program where his concentration is Culture & Society.  Jorge recently started a full-time position as a Workforce Development specialist with DuPage County, focusing on veterans and youth. He will graduate with his Masters degree in June 2017.
Jorge is the Student Veteran representative on the national NASPA Veterans Knowledge Community and he is Vice President of North Central College’s Student Veterans Alliance. 

Member Org Spotlight: National Able Network Part 2

IJF is committed to supporting and uplifting our member organizations, and this includes highlighting the important and innovative work they are doing every day. We will be profiling member organizations on our blog through an ongoing series. We hope to inspire conversation and connection between member organizations, the communities they serve, and anyone else who is passionate about ensuring no veteran, service member, or family member falls through the cracks.

National Able Network is a 501c3 nonprofit based in Chicago that helps job seekers secure employment. Veterans Forward is National Able’s veteran focused career development program which provides career coaching and connections to employers. All career coaches at Veterans Forward are veterans themselves. We recently sat down with one of their career coaches, Kat Schaeffer, and had such a fruitful conversation we decided to publish a part two. Enjoy!

What advice do you have for someone serving veterans who is not a veteran themselves?

Even if you are not from the military community, it is about learning to understand their experience. It is about still having a commonality with them, and not allowing your lack of experience in that area to be a barrier to your ability to help them. If that lack of experience is so intimidating to one person or another in the relationship, that makes it really difficult for any progress to be made.

 How do you encourage people to think positively throughout the job search?

Inherently, a job search is something you fail at until you succeed. It can be a very demeaning experience to fail over and over and over again. Talking about my past, like interviews I have completely bombed, helps the clients feel a little less intimidated.

So everyone thinks their struggle in the job search is unique, but really it isn’t?

Yes. People will wonder, “why is it so much harder for me to find a job than everyone else, I’ve been looking for four months and still haven’t found anything.” Well we have to tell them the average person spends seven months looking for a job. A job search is tough, the thing that makes it easier is having the right information, knowing the job market, and knowing the best practices for an efficient and effective job search. That information is not as readily available as it should be. That is what we are here for, to teach our clients how to navigate the job market.

What made you smile in the last month or so?

We had a client who came in and just devoured all of the advice we gave her. She had no job. But she started networking, fixed her LinkedIn profile, targeted her resumes, found a job and was out the door in three weeks.

What sort of attitudes and behaviors allow clients to be most successful finding a job?

This client wasn’t any more capable at conducting a job search than anyone else, she was just more willing to learn the material. It is exciting to us when we see clients that are just ready to come in with open ears and take our advice and roll with it. When they do, it tends to work really well.

Thank you to Kat for chatting with us! Check National Able Network out on their website, on Facebook, or on Twitter

Are you a member org that would like to take the spotlight on the IJF blog? Let’s chat! Email



Introducing: VetQnect

Illinois Joining Forces (IJF) is excited to announce the launch of VetQnect, the first mobile app for veterans and military service members in the state.

vetqnectVetQnect is designed to be a trusted peer network for service members, veterans and their families looking to connect and share resources on benefits, job opportunities and various events throughout Illinois.

According to IJF Executive Director Ken Barber, the VetQnect app will serve as an extension of the ongoing efforts to help service members, veterans, and families navigate resources available in Illinois. “Helping Illinois veterans feel connected to a community of like-minded individuals that know the challenges of veteran transition is critical,” Barber said.

VetQnect offers a seamless way for veterans to quickly connect. The app features:

  •  Question and answer threads.
  • Ability to invite other veterans and military to the community.
  • Direct messaging among users.
  • Topic threads by hashtag.
  • Access to events and resources from Illinois Joining Forces.

The app is free and available for both Android and IPhone users. Download it today for iPhone or Android, and become part of the conversation!