Veterans Helping Veterans
Program aims to get former military members back on track
By Pat Sherman | TODAY’S LOCAL NEWS | June 7, 2009
FALLBROOK, Calif – As many as 40 percent of all homeless people in the United States are veterans, according to the statistics from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
If Albert Renteria has his way, that percentage will plummet and the image of veterans will dramatically improve.
Renteria has founded the Southwest Veterans’ Business Resource Center (SWVBRC). The goal of the Fallbrook-based nonprofit is to help veterans find jobs, start businesses and improve their lives before they wind up on the streets.
“Veterans have a tendency to be perceived as a cost center, not a profit center,” said Renteria, a retired chief warrant officer with the United States Marines. “If we get them on this track, in this program, and focus on prevention and early intervention, we can keep them from becoming homeless and convert them into a profit center.” Renteria’s center, which opened on Veterans Day last fall, provides a place where veterans and active duty military can receive free career counseling and access to the Internet and other resources seven days a week. Services, including job placement, are free to all military members who have served at least 180 consecutive days of active duty and are still serving or were honorably discharged.
Vista resident Frances Lowe, a volunteer community organizer for the center is working with the Veterans Association of North County to establish a satellite office in Vista or Oceanside.
Lowe said one of the reasons veterans often fall through the cracks is that they are conditioned to be stoic and self-reliant, and may be embarrassed to reach out for help.
Veterans who sign on as “learners” in the center’s 14 level Reintegration Program can receive up to $2,080 in stipends as they blog about their lives and goals. Participants receive some money each time they complete and write about one of the 14 steps geared toward helping them “increase their self-reliance,” Renteria said. The program takes more than 400 hours.
“We promote the idea that every veteran is a self-starter, provided they’re given the tools,” Renteria said. “We’re helping them reinvent themselves.”
Since November, 29 veterans have signed up to be learners. The steps can be completed online, from anywhere in the country, so several of the learners live in other states.
Renteria envisions opening similar centers across the country to offer more hands-on service. On Memorial Day, he opened a second volunteer-run center in Vancouver, Wash.
Before being accepted as a learner, each participant must attend a four-hour orientation, during which Renteria and other mentors instill the concept of veterans helping other veterans.
“Every veteran wants to know, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ” Renteria said. “During the orientation, I shift the concern.”
San Marcos resident Richard Cloonan, a retired Navy dentist and Vietnam War veteran, signed on as a learner and center volunteer to share his success story with others.
Cloonan said veterans often underestimate the valuable skills they acquire during their military service. He advises them to get back on track and return to school.
“We’ve all had our traumas, we all had our close calls and it is affected different people different ways,” said Cloonan, 68. “I wanted to tell my story so that they could see that you don’t have to be a genius to get through all this.”
Cloonan said many veterans face self-esteem issues.
“When they go through this program, they’re learning about themselves, (figuring out) what their goals are, what they really want to do, “ he said. “A lot of people get in a rut, and they really don’t have any goals or objectives. What we’re trying to do is redirect them.”
Several veterans have landed jobs as a result of the program. Brooke Raffaele was hired by a local hospital, and Robert McLeod now works at a Veterans Affairs clinic in San Marcos.
Daniel Boothe, an active duty Marine who works in the communications department at Camp Pendleton, learned about the center when he wrote about its opening last fall. After speaking with Renteria, he signed on as a learner and volunteer. Boothe is currently working with Cloonan, helping him market a dental hygiene product he is developing.
“One unspoken thing is that you really care genuinely about the person and their well-being,” Boothe said. “When we have meetings, we address all needs, like “How are you doing? What’s going on in your life? Do you need support?”
Boothe said he hopes to see Cloonan’s dental hygiene product take off, so that the business can start giving back to the center.
“We don’t forget where we came from,” Boothe said.
Southwest Veterans’ Business Resource Center
HOURS Contact each center to learn best time to visit
INFORMATION www.SWVBRC.org or (760) 728-3200 - - (360) 314-6325