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Veterans to open help center for comrades in Perris

11:27 PM PDT on Friday, May 28, 2010

By JULISSA McKINNON
The Press-Enterprise

Years ago as a homeless veteran, Albert Guzman didn't need a handout. What Guzman really needed was job training and long-term support, which he eventually found through a hospital run by the Department of Veterans Affairs, he said.

Now Guzman is one of several volunteers pitching in to open a center in downtown Perris that aims to teach veterans how to get government assistance and jobs.

The center, called the Southwest Veterans Business Resource Center, will be the fourth of its kind opened by a nonprofit organization founded in 2008 by Fallbrook businessman and 26-year Marine veteran Albert Renteria. Southwest Veterans has opened similar centers in Fallbrook, Spring Lake, N.C., and Vancouver, Wash.

On Friday a few volunteers worked feverishly to clean floors and carpets, hang whiteboards and start arranging the office furniture, all of which was donated by businesses from as far as San Diego and Irvine. The Perris City Council recently agreed to lease the space to the nonprofit for $1 a year.

Renteria described the centers as "one-stop shops" for veterans where they can learn how to apply for government jobs reserved for veterans and other programs.

The centers welcome any veterans in need, whether they are looking for shelter, psychiatric help or employment, Renteria said.

Stan Lim / The Press-Enterprise
Perris Councilman Al Landers, left, and volunteer Albert Guzman prepare to place a decal on the front door of the fourth veteran's resource center, which will open soon. Guzman weathered two homeless spells but now has his own company.
 

"We have to stop the tragedy of homeless veterans and the only way to do that is to give vets a place to go," Renteria said.

Renteria's strategy also includes talking to and engaging the community, because the public knows who veterans are and what they need, he said. He asks potential helpers to register on the organization's website, www.wherecommunitiesserveveterans.org, because the group relies on networking to find volunteers and equipment.

What he expects from program participants is a commitment to work toward incremental goals and share their progress through blogging. Someone who completes the program will blog on 14 topics, the first being "Who am I?" and the last being "Will my business plan work, is it financially sound, will it create more jobs?"
 

"When people start feeling sorry for a vet, they're not engaging him," Renteria said. "And the instinct and the discipline he has been trained with to serve and to work, you're destroying that instinct."

Guzman, a 54-year-old Menifee resident who weathered two homeless spells since serving in Vietnam, recalled how his first step to leaving the streets was committing to a daily task. He delivered mail at a Veterans Domiciliary Home in west Los Angeles.

"I got to wear a suit and clean shoes and in turn they gave me three meals a day. It gave me something to go do where I could get encouraged and not tore down," said Guzman, who like Renteria joined the Marine Corps at 17.

"You have to unlearn homelessness and relearn you can do this," said Guzman, who runs his own business making cabinets and is working toward his general contractor's license.

"You'd never believe I was homeless because I drive this car," Guzman said, pointing to a brand-new gray Corvette. "But I was. I didn't think there'd be a tomorrow. But I found it. I think I can help other veterans find it."

Guzman plans to teach other veterans about landing government contracts. Federal law sets aside 3 percent of federal contracts for businesses owned by disabled veterans. But only 20 percent of those contracts go to disabled veterans due to a lack of participation, Renteria said.

"Freedom has no value if it has no economy. We're saying to vets: 'You fought to defend freedom and capitalism,' " he said. "'If capitalism is why you served, why don't you become a capitalist?' "

Reach Julissa McKinnon at 951-375-3730 or jmckinnon@PE.com

VETERANS CENTER

WHAT: The Southwest Veterans Business Resource Center opens with a ceremony.

WHEN: 11 a.m. Tuesday

WHERE: 227 N. D St., Perris

DETAILS: Steve Muro, acting undersecretary overseeing memorial affairs for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, will speak.

DOD Welcome home-small.jpg

A welcoming home for our Troops.

Welcoming home our men and women doesn't end after the crowd disperses, it MUST continue on for the life of the Veteran! They've served us, now we will serve them with programs that work so they reintegrate into society.

We are a national public benefit nonprofit organization that educates American Communities about best practices to serve Veterans.  We honor their service by empowering Veterans to apply their training and skills to successfully transition to productive careers and enterprises.

We provide free vocational training 24/7 to all of our members through our website, in addition to local events.  We believe the tenet that American Communities are the ultimate beneficiaries when Veterans claim their benefits and invest in productive endeavors.

The SWVBRC enlists the support of members of local Communities like you to increase Veteran awareness of the value of obtaining a VA card and receiving earned benefits.

Sponsorships, donations, volunteers and support from communities like yours enable us to reach out to Veterans and empower them to transition back into successful, productive enterprises that ultimately benefit all Americans and support future generations.

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The Internal Revenue Service has determined that Southwest Veterans' Business Resource Center, Inc. is an organization exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. A donation to SWVBRC, Inc. is deductible to the extent permitted under law.

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