FALLBROOK: Veterans center to serve ex-military population
Job placement, successful transition to civilian life are primary goals
By TOM PFINGSTEN - Staff Writer - North County Times |
FALLBROOK ---- The former Marine who recently founded a veterans resource center in downtown Fallbrook said Monday that he aims to help former service members transition back to civilian life once the center opens Nov. 1.
Albert Renteria stands at the new veterans center in Fallbrook that he is opening in November. (Photo by Waldo Nilo - Staff photographer)
Albert Renteria, who served for 26 years in the Marine Corps, said career counseling is at the top of his list whenever someone asks what veterans need.
Renteria said he envisions the center to be a place that serves active-duty service members as well as veterans.
He wants it to be "a place where they can plan and get their future in order," he said.
Services at the nonprofit Southwest Veterans' Business Resource Center
will be free to eligible veterans, meaning those who served at least 180 consecutive days of active duty and were honorably discharged.
Everything from job placement to counseling services will be available, in addition to an intensive, 14-step transition program that Renteria has spent the last eight years working on.
The program takes a whopping 416 hours to complete, but comes with a $2,080 stipend for participating veterans.
Renteria estimated that 10 percent of Fallbrook's 40,000 residents are veterans, and he pointed out that the town's proximity to Camp Pendleton makes it an ideal location for a center designed to help veterans find work and adjust to civilian life.
Military bases across the country, including Camp Pendleton, provide training and classes for outgoing service members, but Renteria said the need for support doesn't end when a Marine leaves base for the last time.
"When you transition on base, there's a lot of information," he said, adding that outside of a military base, life for a young veteran is not as familiar and that the government's network of 230 Veterans Affairs centers across the country is not always accessible.
"Outside of Fallbrook, you have Los Angeles, La Jolla and perhaps San Diego," Renteria said of the places where veterans can get counseling and help finding a job. "They typically put these centers in inner cities where larger populations exist."
Renteria said he hopes to open similar nonprofit hubs near other military bases around the country, helping former service members reintegrate into society.
Volunteer Bonnie Zepeda said she was motivated to help when she heard what Renteria was trying to do.
"I think it will be a tremendous thing for the community," said Zepeda. "I have a son in the Army, on his fourth tour in Iraq, and I used to work at Camp Pendleton, so I know that when these guys get out, some of them are lost."
Ben Esparza, who teaches a class at Camp Pendleton to help outgoing Marines transition back to civilian life, said that job placement is the biggest hurdle most new veterans face.
"I'd say three-quarters of them will probably end up in the job market out there, and those guys are going to need someone to relate to them, as far as the problems that veterans face," said Esparza. "They can easily lose sight of where they're going, just because of the complexity of separating into a world that's so different for them."
Renteria said he's all too familiar with the differences between military and civilian life.
He used the analogy of a deep-sea diver who must surface slowly after a dive to avoid life-threatening internal injuries. In much the same way, the pressure of military service needs time to wear off, he said.
"When they're at the bottom and they're going toward the top, they have to take their time," he said. "That's a critical point for us."
Veterans also need help redefining the way they view themselves, as men and women accustomed to fighting must venture out into a vastly different culture from the one found on base, he said.
"Until you redefine yourself, you really don't know what you want to do," said Renteria. "A veteran who gets out may go through six or seven jobs. The aim is to eradicate the notion that a veteran can go homeless."
He said the center is still looking for volunteers and office supply donations, as well as financial support.
An opening ceremony will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 1 at the facility, 145 E. Fig St. The center can be reached at (760) 468-1315, or at www.swvbrc.org
Contact staff writer Tom Pfingsten at (760) 740-3516 or firstname.lastname@example.org