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Member Org Spotlight: Lewis University

IJF supports and uplifts 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 a family member falls through the cracks.

Lewis University is a non-profit Catholic University located in Romeoville. More than 553 Lewis University students are Active Duty, Reserve, Cadet, and Family Members using G.I. Bill benefits or Veterans. Many of the students of Lewis University participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program. Funded through Lewis University and the Department of Veteran Affairs, this program provides 100 percent of student tuition expenses if they have 100 percent level of Post 9/11 entitlement. We recently spoke with Director of Veterans Affairs and Recruitment at Lewis University, Roman Ortega Jr., about how he works with student veterans to ensure success.

Tell us a little about yourself

I have been in the service for 18 years, served about 11 years on active duty in the U.S. Army and 7 in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Half of my time was in the infantry, and the other half was in military intelligence. I did deployment overseas in multiple capacities ranging from combat to humanitarian aid.

I got my master’s degree at Lewis University while on active duty in the U.S. Army.

 What is your philosophy behind how you provide services to students?

I try to focus on a wraparound service model: Social, Academic, Financial, Community, and Career. Many veterans transitioning out of the military want to go to school and then move back into careers. We have a team of 11 of us that strive to do the best in providing support during a potentially challenging transition.

What does wrap-around service model mean?

We help them with the most fundamental questions regarding admission and application process, we assist them to get registered, we enable access to benefits while in school. We also provide support through a student veteran group and a Vet Ally program which helps faculty and staff support veteran students. Then we empower them with employment opportunities to make sure they are set up for success upon graduation.

Can you tell us about any advantages student veterans have?

On average, student veterans tend to have a slightly higher graduation rate than civilians at Lewis. They tend to do well academically and in leadership roles at the University. The retention and persistence rate at Lewis University is over 80 percent for our student veterans, which is well above the national average for higher education. Their loan and debt rate are also very low which means they are graduating with less financial burden.

What about any unique challenges student veterans face?

We have student veterans who have families. They are typically married. They often have a part-time job or full-time job. They have got a lot to balance. They are very cognizant of their time, and what they are going to do with that time. Sometimes this equates to less participation in campus activities comparatively speaking to the traditional student. That is the biggest challenge.

Thank you to Roman Ortega for speaking with us! Check out Lewis University on their website, Facebook, or Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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: hilary.duerksen@redcross.org

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: Linnea.hurst@illinoisjoiningforces.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 linnea.hurst@illinoisjoiningforces.org

 

 

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!

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Member Org Spotlight: National Able Network

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 service members, veterans, or families fall 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, to discuss everything from the art of translation to power plants. Curious? Keep reading!

 Would you like to tell us about your time in the military?

I served five years in the Marine Corps, I was F/A-18 Ejection Seat Mechanic, which has nothing to do with career coaching.

 What is special about veterans helping other veterans find employment?

We have a little bit of camaraderie and trust there. It makes it work a little better. They know we very likely understand their experience. We can speak the same language.

 What do you mean same language?

When they say I worked in an S3 shop, I know what that means. Whereas if they told a civilian I work in an S3 shop…they would have no idea.

 Do you have any other examples of these two languages?

I had a client today that said he wanted to work in power plants because he worked in power plants in the military. In the military, power plants is a position where you are working on engines or fuel cells for equipment whether it is a ship or a truck. As a civilian a power plant is a big facility that produces energy for a city, for example.

So what did you tell this client?

I had to explain to him that you can’t walk up to a civilian employer and say you want to work in power plants because they don’t understand that you want to work on engines. So it’s having that ability to actually translate things, to say this is the civilian word for the military word that you’re using.

 What is a common misconception people have about veteran job seekers?

The biggest thing I want civilian employers, and civilians in general to know is that the veteran experience, the military experience, is not much different than the civilian experience. There is just this one time in their life that was very different culturally than what most civilians have ever experienced, but work experience is work experience. Veterans have real world work experience from the military that can easily be applied to the civilian workforce. We aren’t functioning in a different world while in the military. The uniform is different and the mission is different but the skills are the same and veterans have a couple years to a couple decades of experience putting those skills to work in real scenarios. I think so many civilians have a big stumbling block when it comes to understanding how military work experience relates to the civilian workforce, it seems that they often don’t understand the military experience and might feel a little unsure of how to come to understand it, it shuts off any progress in that relationship. The important thing to remember is that military work experience is just as relevant in the civilian workforce as civilian work experience.

 Is the job search for a veteran really that different than the job search for a civilian?

I think 70% of the veteran job seeker experience is no different than the civilian job seeker experience.

 How often does the military come up when you are working with a veteran to find civilian employment?

Occasionally the military comes up when we are trying to translate those skills. Mostly we are trying to help them describe their military skills in ways that civilians will understand and value.

 Any exciting things coming up at Veterans Forward?

Veterans Forward is launching an online platform called Mission Forward that will make our job search training available to Veterans nationwide! We have a launch party on November 18 at the Chicago Cultural Center.  We are looking for support for our event from individual and corporate sponsors. We will be inviting press as well as veterans currently in job search, so this is a great way to showcase a company’s commitment to the military community. Register for the event here!

Thank you to Kat for chatting with us! Check National Able 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 linnea.hurst@illinoisjoiningforces.org

 

Member Org Spotlight: Code Platoon

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 assuring no veteran, service member, or family member falls through the cracks.

Code Platoon is a member organization of IJF that trains veterans to be software developers. We recently asked Founder and Executive Director Rodrigo Levy a few questions about how exactly Code Platoon prepares veterans for this transition from service members to software specialists.

IJF: What does Code Platoon do?

Rod: Code Platoon is a nonprofit organization that trains veterans to become professional software developers. We are helping motivated veterans learn a skillset for a profession that pays well, has growing demand, and has tremendous opportunity for growth. We do this in a way that is extremely affordable for veterans, by giving $10,500 scholarships to our program.

What makes Code Platoon unique?

Code Platoon is a “coding boot camp.” The best coding boot camps, like Code Platoon, teach modern technologies, and are deeply immersive. Students are working around 70 hours a week, over 14 weeks, so around 1,000 total hours of work. What separates us is that we only admit veterans.

Can you tell us more about the support you provide veterans while they go through this boot camp?

As I mentioned, all admitted veterans get $10,500 scholarships. We also provide a strong network to support our students with veteran mentors and veteran-oriented support services, including several organizations through IJF, like Road Home.

Are there any misconceptions about veterans that you have encountered through your work?

A misconception I have seen from both veterans and non-veterans is that veterans are not suited for programming jobs, for whatever reason. Obviously, we are attacking this misconception head-on.

What has been something over the last couple months that made you smile?

A couple weeks ago, our first graduate received and accepted a full-time job as a software developer, at one of our sponsor companies.

 

Thank you to Code Platoon for being the first member organization to chat with us! Check out Code Platoon on their website, Facebook, or Twitter.

 

 

 

Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs Patriot Awards

The Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs is accepting applications for the Patriot Awards and the Parade for Veterans’ Day at the Illinois State Fair. We are looking to acknowledge a veteran and a small-business/organization that has gone above and beyond the call of duty to help veterans in Illinois. We are doing this with two very special awards.

The Illinois Veterans’ Patriotic Volunteer and Appreciation Award highlights and honor the work of an Illinois veteran whose contributions in service to the veteran community and their local communities are truly above and beyond. Nominees are evaluated on the basis of their leadership, dedication, innovation, and impact in serving these communities. Award recipients are those whose efforts add to the powerful narrative that veterans are dedicated, Life-long servants whose efforts benefit all of Illinois veteran communities.

The Illinois Veterans’ Business Appreciation Award highlights and honors the work of any business or organization in Illinois that has significantly helped veterans, and whose contributions to those who have served our country are documented and deserve to be recognized. This award is designed to highlight and honor those businesses or organizations

This is a tremendous opportunity to recognize the selfless individuals who have put their lives on the line for this nation and continued to serve when they returned home. Don’t let it pass by! Winners will be presented their award August 14, 2016 at the State Fair in Springfield. The application deadline is July 29, 2016. Please click on the following link for the criteria for consideration and the applications. http://www.illinois.gov/veterans/features/Pages/Veteran-and-Business-Appreciation-Award.aspx

Lastly, we are looking for organizations who want to march in the parade that concludes the day at the State Fair on August 14, 2016. This is a great opportunity to show support for the veterans of Illinois and/or show your pride for your own service. If you have interest in participating please fill out the form found here<http://goo.gl/forms/5Gci25PvXEjeOi973> by August 5, 2016.  Parade line up will begin at 4:00pm and the parade will kick off at 5:00pm promptly.

Please disseminate this information to anyone you think would be interested. Thank you all for everything you do for those who have given so much.

First Annual She Served Conference: Recap

Last Tuesday, May 10th, the Illinois Joining Forces Women Veterans Working Group held their first annual conference at Camp Lincoln in Springfield. The day featured lectures, panel discussions, and more from subject matter experts as well as Women Veterans who shared their unique experiences serving.

Following a Military Culture 101 presentation from Meosha Thomas, Founder & CEO of One Savvy Veteran, the group heard about Post Traumatic Stress and Trauma in Women Veterans from Dr. John Mundt, Staff Psychologist at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center. Dr. Mundt shared his valuable perspective from over 30 years providing psychological services to veterans. Specifically, 3 of 5 female veterans have experienced assault while serving, and many others have experienced harassment and threats of sexual assault. These experiences of Military Sexual Trauma are more likely to lead to PTSD than combat trauma, and are crucially important issues for service providers to understand.

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Dr. Mundt speaks to participants about the unique experiences of post traumatic stress in female veterans.

Dr. Mundt also highlighted some challenges that female veterans face while seeking services at the VA – namely, having a hard time receiving treatment in a heavily male VA, and facing sexual harassment from other veterans while at the VA. These challenges were later emphasized in a panel discussion on the importance of peer support for women veterans. The panel discussion featured Erica Jeffries, Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs; Marine Nelson, SSVF Team Leader at Thresholds; Meosha Thomas, Founder & CEO of One Savvy Veteran; Megan Everett, Director of Veterans’ Programs at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation; and Lisa Goodale, Vice President of Peer Services at Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Panelists agreed that peer support programs establish a built-in trust and rapport with someone who has shared experiences, and that such programs are a valuable aspect of psychological treatment options.

During the panel discussion, Megan Everett noted that peer support offers the “ability to have a real open conversation with someone who has already walked the walk.”

During the panel discussion, Megan Everett noted that peer support offers the “ability to have a real open conversation with someone who has already walked the walk.”

Additional afternoon breakout sessions focused on a wide variety of topics with respect to female veterans, including integrative medicine, culturally competent medical care, employment services, and homelessness and housing. The day also included time for networking with service providers across Illinois.

Last week’s conference was made possible by many of IJF’s valuable partners and member organizations, including the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, Health & Disability Advocates, Thresholds, Jesse Brown VA, and the Illinois National Guard. Thank you to everyone who made the inaugural She Served conference a success!

Written by Caitlin Hodes, IJF Program Analyst

48 Hours in Chicago for Active Duty Service Members

Coming up to Chicago for the weekend? As an active duty service member, there is a lot to take advantage of in the city for free or a fraction of the normal price! And with warmer temperatures right around the corner, there is no better time to explore all that Chicago has to offer. Here are some of our suggestions for how to make the most of your time in the Windy City:

–> Check out the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, then make your way through Millennium Park (make sure to stop for a picture with the Bean!). If you’re feeling active, pick up a Divvy bike at one of their many stations surrounding the park and ride along the Lakefront path for stellar views of the skyline.

–> Visit any of Chicago’s amazing museums, many of which offer free admission to active duty service members. Our favorites are the Field Museum and Art Institute! You can see a full list of military discounts in Chicago here.

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–> Head North to Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the nation’s oldest zoos housing 1200 animals – find detailed directions here.

–> Check out the view from Willis Tower Skydeck, which is free for active duty military who show their ID to the cashier.

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–> Hungry? Grab a slice of Chicago’s infamous deep dish pizza at Giordano’s or Lou Malnati’s.

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–> Have a late night laugh at Chicago’s historical improve club The Second City, where active duty military can receive a free ticket to any show! We recommend the nightly Mainstage Revue. See a full list of shows here.

–> Any last minute gifts or shopping you need to get done? Look no further than the Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue! With tons of stores to choose from, it won’t be hard to find that perfect gift for a special someone. Be sure to check out this list of stores offering military discounts beforehand!

–> Browse the Tickets for Troops website to see if there are any sporting events going on while you’re in town. You could score free tickets to see the Blackhawks, White Sox, Cubs, Bears, and more!

–> In the early decades of the twentieth century, Chicago’s fast-growing industries brought the city a great deal of wealth, along with an abundance of jazz music. Catch a live performance at the historic Kingston Mines.

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The map below highlights many of the attractions we mentioned, and may give you ideas for more activities should your schedule allow it. And if you do take any of these tips, be sure to tag us in your social media posts (@ILJoiningForces). We can’t wait to see what you do!

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Written by Caitlin Hodes, IJF Program Analyst