In North Carolina, the Charlotte metropolitan area is home to two National Guard facilities and a reserve unit, but until recently it lacked services geared toward military families and veterans. Service members serving at guard facilities and their families face unique challenges because they don’t have access to the host of services that are available on full-time military installations.
To fill this void, Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont launched Operation Independence in November 2010 with a generous grant from the Microsoft Corporation. The grant enabled the agency to develop a state-of-the-art computer lab and hire two full-time specialists — a vocational evaluator at the Goodwill’s facilities and a counselor at Central Piedmont Community College.
“We offer wraparound services — that’s our golden nugget,” says Nicholas Riggins, who is a veteran and the agency’s vocational evaluator. “We work with other organizations to make sure veterans get the services they deserve.”
Three of the four Operation Independence employees have military experience: two are veterans and one is a veteran’s spouse. They understand firsthand the challenges their participants face. In addition to providing employment services, such as career assessments and skills training, the Goodwill helps with relocation issues. It connects participants with community services, and helps them navigate the city and learn who’s hiring.
“Our biggest strength has been not only helping veterans find employment, but also helping them connect with other veterans in the community,” Riggins says.
Recently, the Goodwill® began hosting Focus on the Family events, during which local military families come together to discuss the challenges they face. As more reservists and guard members are deployed, either overseas or to assist with domestic natural disasters, both they and their families must adjust to full-time military life without the support of a base. Now, instead of serving one weekend each month, they are on duty and away from home 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Focus on the Family events help them build extended support systems with people who understand what they’re going through.