Arizona Organization Works to Help Vets

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 19, 2007 - An organization in Phoenix is offering individuals, including some veterans, a lifeline when it comes to meeting some of their needs, such as housing, employment or just a simple word of encouragement.

"We're here if anyone desires a more positive road," said Jacque Harris, business developer for the group, "My Brothers Keeper." "We try to help people get on the right track as much as we possibly can, (to) be a support system, a lifeline for them."

Some of the training and development center's clients are trying to reintegrate into their communities after incarceration. Some, however, are veterans of past wars looking for a better lease on life.

"We service a lot of the vets when they come through needing assistance with jobs, skill development, (and) housing referrals," she said. "I think every week we have a vet or two in our different workshops.

"We've found (vets) to be looking for about the same thing (as other clients)," Harris added, referring to the 28 veterans the program has helped since March.

The center also offers substance abuse and anger management counseling, as well as parenting skill development. All of the programs are free to anyone over the age of 18.

My Brothers Keeper, which will celebrate its first anniversary on Oct. 16, currently serves only Maricopa County and is doing a lot of what Harris called "soft skill" job training. That includes customer service, inventory management, sales and telemarketing.

The staff also has just implemented a business plan class, which offers those thinking of starting their own business a few reality checks, including an assessment of personal finances, she said.

"We teach them actually how to write their business plan and about projections and how do you project what's really your direct cost?" Harris said. "We also have referrals for funding small business loans, which we're really excited about."

Part of that syllabus includes a financial literacy workshop taught by a local bank executive. Students learn proper use of credit, how to look at interest rates, how to read a credit report, and how to spot fraudulent activity on that document.

All of this is done in the interest of placing veterans and other clients in jobs. Most have been unemployed for awhile and might be placed in several jobs before finding one that's mutually beneficial for employer and employee.

"We always encourage people, 'Don't quit. Allow us the opportunity to find you something else if this is not a good fit,'" Harris said. "We have built relationships with employers where we can really ... help them find (gainful) employment."

But My Brothers Keeper doesn't walk away after a vet is placed in that perfect job. The new employees are followed for 90 days to ensure their success, she said.

"There's accountability along the way," Harris said. "We're referring people to employers that we have relationships with, and we want to place other people there so it's important that we're there and involved."

Harris' goal for the next year is for My Brothers Keeper to open three more locations in Arizona.

"Then we want to go to California, (and) I don't know from there," she said. "Definitely the West Coast over the next two years is the plan."

If some have their way, My Brothers Keeper will eventually become a national organization. Harris already has received inquiries from people in Florida, Georgia, Nevada, and Texas who heard about the program and hoped it was operating in their state. "That's encouraging," she said.

Each week between 15 and 20 people begin the weeklong orientation process, and while interested parties can walk into the Phoenix-based office, Harris suggests calling (602) 344-7504 to make sure there's space available that week.

Arizona Organization Works to Help Vets [ ]