James Naguina believes that veterans who have served their country honorably, but fallen on hard times, deserve an opportunity. "What I am trying to sell is a second chance for an individual that has sworn to give his [or her] life up for this country, and did serve this country honorably," said Naguina, employment specialist for Goodwill Industries of Southeast Iowa. "I think if we owe them nothing else, we owe them the opportunity to try to get their lives back together."

Goodwill established an employment service for veterans in November 2003 to assist with job placement and training. The services Goodwill provides are unique, differing from other veteran services in the Quad Cities.

Homeless or near-homeless veterans who receive employment services through Goodwill have the opportunity to participate in a paid internship in the Rock Island and Moline Goodwill stores, which the organization hopes will lead to a job elsewhere. Those employed typically work three to four hours daily, earning the minimum wage of $6.50 in Illinois. The retail job is usually temporary, but full-time employment at a Goodwill store may be considered following the internship. By using this method, Naguina said that veterans are able to have some money for basic living expenses while continuing job searches and skills training. "It's a way to ease them back into the workforce," he said.

Eleven veterans are currently being provided employment services by Naguina. The most important aspect of the program, he said, is the one-on-one interaction, and the opportunity for a veteran to have someone to listen to what's going on in his or her life.

Goodwill Employment Services works with 31 employers around the Quad Cities to try to place veterans in jobs. For example, Goodwill has helped veterans get jobs with the City of Davenport, Oscar Mayer, Tyson Foods, and TGI Friday's. The program has helped approximately 90 veterans since 2003.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that 45 percent of veterans have substance-abuse troubles, while 50 percent have some type of mental illness, most commonly Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The House Committee on Veterans' Affairs estimates that "275,000 veterans are homeless on any given night."

The goal of Goodwill Employment Services is to have the veteran employed in a four- to six-week time frame. If in that time the veteran has not yet found employment, or other barriers still exist, he or she would be allowed an extension of services until employment can be found.

Not only does the veteran work in the Goodwill store in the afternoon or evening as part of the employment services provided, but he or she must also be in a classroom atmosphere on a daily basis for two to three hours in the morning, to learn job skills.

In the classroom setting, veterans learn résumé writing, how to put together a cover letter, how to conduct themselves during an interview, and a basic understanding of computer usage. In addition, veterans are given guidelines on social behavior in the workplace.

"I am glad for the program," said Tom Jones, a veteran of the United States Air Force and a client of the Goodwill Employment Services who works at one of the Goodwill stores. "I like the structure and the interaction with other veterans who are going through the same thing."

Veteran Rick D., who asked that his last name not be used, agreed with Jones. "I am really grateful for the opportunity to work in the Goodwill store," the veteran said. "It boosts my self-esteem, and gives me the strength to realize my full potential."

Rick D. said that because he became affiliated with the program, he is able to use a computer and is familiar with how to conduct job searches.

Before services can be received, the veteran must first contact Naguina's liaison for the program, Sarah Oliver, at (563)370-1779. To be eligible, the veteran must have an honorable discharge and qualify for medical benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Veterans must also be homeless, or near-homeless.

Just like any other employer, an application will be given to the veteran for employment in the Goodwill store. A packet titled "The Power of Self Discipline: Behavior Skills" is also given to the qualifying veteran, along with a Goodwill of Southeast Iowa Handbook.

With the help of the VA, Naguina is able to give clothing vouchers and hygiene kits to those veterans who need to clean up for a potential job. Naguina said that once veterans walk through the door for services, they have made a choice to do whatever it takes to succeed in the workplace. "If they need a haircut, they get it done," he said. "If they need a shave, then we need to get them trimmed up."

Nationally, the need for assistance for veterans is high. "We are meeting new veterans every day," said Joe March, a spokesperson for he American Legion national office. "Even as thousands more come out of service and return to their communities, many will need help in getting benefits and assistance to re-establish themselves."

The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) offers employment services and job training (such as computer usage) for veterans. But according to Naguina, the IDES is limited in how it can assist veterans.

"The big difference is they can't solicit like I can," Naguina said. "I can call an employer and talk to them, and basically beg for an opportunity for a veteran."

Naguina said that agencies such as IDES can show a veteran how to use a computer or print out an application, but a veteran can't do anything with that job unless there is money and transportation to get there. Those are additional services that Goodwill Employment Services can provide qualifying veterans.

"We are not talking about giving veterans a free anything," Naguina said. "We just want to give them the opportunity to live decently."

For more information regarding the Goodwill homeless veterans program, visit Suite 300 in the Professional Arts Building at 121 West Locust Street in Davenport or contact Sarah Oliver at (563)370-1779. To learn more about Goodwill Industries of Southeast Iowa, visit (http://www.goodwillseiowa.org).

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