For 28 years the Berlin wall stood as a symbol of division, separating Europe from neighboring communist suppression. The 96-mile wall isolated mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters that wanted nothing more than to be with the ones they cared so much for. Resistance from East Berlin finally crushed that barrier on October 3, 1990 reunifying broken families and long lost friends.
Following in their footsteps some odd 18 years later, our nation demolished a barricade that prevented 90 percent of Americans, who have pledged support for members of the Armed Forces, from expressing their unwavering gratitude.
On November 1, 2008, the founding of the Southwest Business Resource Center crushed that barrier empowering and challenging communities to do more than band-aid a national concern with a yellow ribbon on the back of their car.
Expecting pages of paperwork on a broken clipboard and handouts that might last through the week, the SWBRC orientation introduced me to a unique opportunity that I can only hope others might find.
I stumbled across the center while covering the grand opening as an article for my newspaper. Stumbled is the wrong word. Saying the word stumbled makes it sound like it might have been chance or a mistake, but everything I soon learned and am so fortunate to know was because of one opportunity I didn’t step right over.
After returning to the center curious and off the clock, I was greeted with a smile and a handshake from a tall middle-aged man I had never met, but felt compelled to know. I stepped into the 500-square-foot center with new laptops on every table. The Starbucks-like atmosphere almost opposite of the veteran-center waiting room I had imagined. We sat down and he introduced himself as Albert Renteria, founder and chief executive officer of the SWVBRC. Right away he started asking questions about me. He wanted to know about the personal goals I had in life and how I was planning to get there. He wanted to know more about what I wanted; now why would a CEO of any organization want to know more about me?
I gave him a brief rundown of my life leaving out anything I felt uncomfortable discussing or felt he didn’t need to know. He proceeded to tell me about a dream he had eight years ago. This dream was the unparallel opportunity veteran’s could find at the SWVBRC and what the center can offer former and active service members. I came in with the mentality that I, a 22-year-old active-duty Marine, might benefit from the center, but just moments into his explanation of marketing and business-oriented learning my mentality changed from might to will.
He began to talk more about what you can offer yourself and a lot less of what the center can give you. It was then I realized that the center was just a place to facilitate personal growth. His clarification led me to believe that the organization was more of a support system than just another non-profit charity. The idea was that participants in the program would forever be a part of an organization that wants to help in every facet of your life. “From cradle to grave,” said Albert.
We moved the discussion into the cozy conference room, adjacent to the main computer lab you first step into. Dry-erase boards and cardboard cut-outs filled most of the available space on the oak table filled with business models and what I later learned to be techniques I could use to further myself and become more successful in life.
I was amazed at how someone I knew for only a few moments would care as much as he did, but I wasn’t prepared for the curve ball coming next.
He began to pry into the uncomfortable asking personal questions about into my past. I immediately felt uneasy and was caught completely off-guard. I wasn’t prepared for this. I felt almost like leaving right then, but for some strange reason, I stayed. I answered his questions and swallowed a big spoonful of humility. Even though it was uncomfortable, Albert made it clear to me that it is impossible to help someone unless you know what problems they have had or are having. He clarified that that life is about overcoming and addressing uncomfortable feelings, not so he could hear about them, but so you could learn from them. He called it identifying your weakness. He offered personal advice and unique guidance how to go about solving my problems. Right then, I started to feel that success, my success, was closer than I had ever imagined and that the program is going to be my key help to unlock my personal goals, if you let it.
Albert said it wasn’t that long ago that he had a vision of an organization that would empower communities and that nothing is impossible. His vision of the SWVBRC provided communities with ability to offer unique support and resources to veterans. The explanation was centered on the idea that communities are the key to ending homeless-neglected veterans. Stating that every veteran, including myself, joined the military to protect the very community we were once born and raised in. Deep down, ever service member enlists to fight for a family back home and a community that made them the person they are today, said Albert.
After spending only a short time with this charismatic man, I found truth in his words and began understanding what an asset the center could become to my personal success. But what support do veterans see today after coming home? Communities have the will and urge to support their veterans but lack the means of conveying that support.
Albert shuffled through some cardboard cut-outs and pulled out an upside down pyramid, introducing me to the 14-step program that the SWVBRC uses as a tool. The pyramid helps veterans identify who they are, what they want, and how to achieve their personal goals in life. The pyramid-shaped questionnaire consisted of 14 topics, one at each level that veterans answer in a personal novel. The novel is meant to document your history and experiences helping future SWVBRC veterans learn and build personal success. Albert referred to it as knowledge harvesting.
In addition to the personally guided self improvement discussions, the pyramid program facilitates veterans helping themselves. Albert mentioned that the organization is willing to even pay stipends upon completion of each level. The organization also requires participants to sign a 9-line contract reiterating that the SWVBRC is all about veterans helping themselves.
Together we began discussing the mission statement, guiding principles, and the vision of SWVBRC. I was still surprised that he wanted to hear about what I thought and what the statement meant to me. It was as if he wanted to hear what I was going to say to learn from it. Why would a man who started the organization and designed the principles want me to critique them? I later learned another positive principle that wasn’t written down, but was lived by Albert as a personal point of pride.
Albert stated that we can always learn something new from someone, always. This was a principle I had already understood in my life, but wished I followed more. I was comforted that Albert shared my personal point of view that we can always learn from one another, and if you assume you can’t, you already have something else to learn.
In this initial orientation, we also discussed identifying personal strengths along with weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Again, I was surprised that someone else would sit down, one on one, and discuss how I can become more successful in life dedicating time energy and resources just so I might thrive.
Coming from a small town, with neighbors that still drive horse and buggies, I know that my life experiences will be a little different than others. Personally, I have derived a lot of my values and strengths from that small town in southern Indiana. Even Marcus Cicero, roman scholar and politician, is famous for understanding the importance of “knowing thyself”. After spending a moment or two contemplating, I began identifying specific strengths that I possess. My strengths include being:
Intrapersonal: Can relate and communicate exceptionally with others.
Determined: If I don’t know, I will.
Adaptable: Can adapt, overcome, and work with anything.
Identifying particular points of weakness is just as essential, if not more important as understanding strengths. My points of weakness that I am trying to overcome include being:
Naïve: To know everything is to know nothing.
Detailed: Perfection is not always efficient.
Biased: I only know what I have experienced.
After identifying more about myself and the obstacles I must overcome, I had already begun the long journey or personal success and self improvement. This voyage is one I am eager to start and believe the organization can facilitate.
There we were, just the two of us, sitting at a conference room discussing an organization I already knew would become a larger portion of my life and how we can grow together reaching out to more communities and in turn helping that many more veterans. After spending all this time with Albert I began to understand more of this man’s dream. A dream that the Southwest Veterans’ Business Resource Center would become available to every community around the world offering the highest level of support to veterans.
Nearly four hours after our initial handshake, we wrapped our meeting up and agreed to meet again. I went home and thought about what I got out of my experience with Albert. I began writing about how it made me feel and what I thought, soon enough I was already writing my orientation and introduction to the 14-step program beginning my novel with everything you just read.