Illinois Joining Forces (IJF) works to help Illinois veterans navigate the vast resources available to them throughout the state, by connecting them with the organizations that are best suited to meet their individual needs. IJF’s mission would not be possible without the help of the remarkable Coordination Center staff members – William E. Bryant III and Michael Smith.
William E Bryant III
“I really enjoy helping veterans in their time of need.”
William E. Bryant III. served in the United States Marine Corps, working as a heavy equipment mechanic from 1982 – 1985. He separated from the Marine Corps one year early due to vision loss. William has been diagnosed as legally blind since 1992, and he has been working with Illinois Joining Forces for approximately 2 years at the Coordination Center.
“I am proud to be of service to all the men and women who have served our country.”
Michael Smith is a US Navy veteran who served for eight years with an Honorable Discharge. He was a Communications specialist aboard the USS Midway CV-41 stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, the USS Fresno LST-1182 stationed in San Diego, California, the USS John Young DD-973 stationed in San Diego, California, and lastly Military Sealift Command stationed in Oakland, California. Michael joined the Illinois Joining Forces coordination center team in early February 2016.
Both staff members are able to work with Illinois Joining Forces through a partnership with The Chicago Lighthouse, a world-renowned organization serving the blind, visually impaired, disabled and Veteran communities. The efforts of this organization would not be possible without the generous support of The Boeing Company.
Mike and Will shared more about their time working with IJF and their opinions on the unique services that IJF is able to provide through the Coordination Center. Mike believes that the Coordination Center’s greatest strength is
“Human touch – especially in this world now where everything is automated, it’s great that we put a live person on the other end of the line. I can feel the veteran’s anxiety level drop when they call in and hear a real person on the other end who they can talk to and who has empathy for them.”
Will also added that another strength provided by the IJF Coordination Center is the extensive experience and knowledge that he and Mike have of so many of the organizations and resources that the veterans could potentially utilize:
“It’s better than veterans trying to go online and search for resources that they aren’t familiar with. It’s great that they get to talk to us because we have lots of experience meeting veteran’s unique needs.”
The Coordination Center staff are capable of handling an array of challenges and are trained in level-one crisis management. Most veteran inquiries center around homelessness, behavioral health, and unemployment challenges; however, IJF has task forces set up to aid veterans, in-service members, and their families in even more areas. These areas include education, and health care, legal and financial support, emergency assistance, family and survivor assistance, veteran recreation and volunteer programs.
Will considers the success stories the most rewarding part of working at the Coordination Center:
“While you can’t help everyone, we do have a lot of success stories. It’s always wonderful when someone calls in looking for housing or employment, and we’ve been able to meet that need.”
“For me, the altruistic aspect of the work is the most rewarding. There is always a void that is getting filled when you are helping people. This translates when people call us back to thank us, it’s very heartfelt and they feel a level of humanity through IJF that veterans don’t always get to feel. For a long time veterans have been put on a shelf, this is one way to give them back some of the pride they should feel about the military and their service.”
Will and Mike share a deep passion and great capacity for helping veterans. They can be reached at the Illinois Joining Forces Coordination Center at 1-877-236-7702.