For the past four years, the Veterans Back-to-Work Boot Camp has provided comprehensive career guidance, mentorship, job-hunting support and networking for almost 100 veterans
Des Plaines, Ill.– By nature, military service members are cool under pressure, meet challenges head on, and get the job done, no matter what. So, when the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s Veterans Back to Work Bootcamp, had to switch the boot camp format from in-person to virtual, no one batted an eye. They tackled the boot camp with the same dedication, passion, and commitment to the program as they have done over the past 3 years to help the selected veterans for the program succeed.
To that end, the Veterans Back-to-Work Boot Camp celebrated the 2020 veterans that completed the intensive career development program at a special graduation ceremony that was held on Wednesday, November 4, 2020. The Graduates met in person at the American Legion Post 36, in Des Plaines, and additional guests joined in virtually to support them. The 20 veterans each received a 10 week career development course throughout the boot camp and that evening they each received laptops and gift certificates for professional clothing, a Seiko Watch , career counseling, a 1 year work out membership, car maintenance package and more valued at over $8,000 .
“Marne Deithorn, Human Resource Director of Rivers Casino and a Marine veteran and program mentor since the inception, said. “Participants adapted to the changes and improvised to connect from every remote location to accomplish the requirements of the program.”
Initiated in 2017 by the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DPCC), the Veterans Boot Camp provides 10 weeks of comprehensive career development programming, using proven job-seeking tools adapted to the needs, experiences and skills of veterans.
The program connects veterans with mentors, local businesses and leaders; covers career preparation and exploration; provides practical hands-on assistance with job-hunting, resumes and interviewing; addresses emotional and physical health; and gives veterans the motivation and tools they need to succeed.
“We know these veterans acquired many skills during their service, but far too many have difficulty connecting to the right opportunity that matches their skill set, said Andrea Biwer, Executive Director of Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce & Industry “We help them make that connection – benefiting both veterans and employers in our community. This year, many incredible veterans were affected by the pandemic, and we were honored to help them take steps towards finding a new job or career.”
This year’s 20 graduates join a network of almost 100 Chicago-area veterans who are successfully pursuing civilian careers as well as community leadership, thanks to their participation in the innovative and life-changing Veterans Boot Camp. As Charles Benford, one of the 2020 participants noted, “A team of professionals is there to help me find a career path and have helped me design a road map to get there. The program is helping me bring it all together: the vocational, emotional, physical, financial, intellectual, and social.”
Laura Johnstone, an Airforce veteran and 2017 Veterans Boot Camp graduate, credits Veterans Boot Camp with setting her on the path to a management career in the grocery industry. Now a manager at Jewel-Osco, she reports that “the Boot Camp gave me priceless networking opportunities and the chance to meet with companies that have a desire to hire veterans.”
Nick Czerniak, a Marine Corps veteran who is now a firefighter and paramedic, was inspired to make strides in life: “During the Boot Camp, I was surrounded by people with drive who motivated me."
Maggie Bennett is an Army veteran who benefited from the Veterans Boot Camp. “The Boot Camp taught me how to network, use LinkedIn and navigate social media to my advantage. It helped me get two jobs. And the best thing it taught me was confidence in myself and my abilities.”
Some Boot Camp graduates return to the program as mentors. After serving in the Navy from 2012-2017, Colin Kipping-Ruane returned home and joined the Veteran’s Boot Camp, where he found his career direction. Now a project manager for American Eagle, Colin enjoys being a Boot Camp mentor. “I wanted to give back and help those that were in similar positions as myself. I have always lived by the mantra 'service before self' and I wanted to do what I could do to help those in need.”
Networking, Volunteer Project & Special Activities
The program wasn’t all virtual learning. Veterans attended Des Plaines Chamber’s networking events like the annual golf outing and in person networking breakfasts and even Zoom Leadership and Social Impact meetings to practice their elevator pitches and networking skills.
They also participated in a community service project that benefitted the Self-Help Closet & Pantry in Des Plaines, a nonprofit providing clothing and groceries to community members in need.
“We’re extremely grateful to the men and women involved in the program for helping us move into our new home” said Debra Walusiak, Executive Director.
Thanks to support from Planet Fitness, program participants and their families also enjoyed free livestreamed team building workouts on Sunday nights as well so they could focus on their mind, body and soul.
Business Community Support
The business community is a strong supporter of the Veterans Boot Camp. “Our program is flourishing because of the Veteran mentorship, speakers, and financial support of the business community,” said Biwer. “We are grateful to Rivers Casino, our presenting sponsor, and additional sponsors including The Home Depot, AMITA Health, Planet Fitness, LSG Sky Chefs, VFW Post 2992, American Legion Post 36, Oakton Community College, Harper Community College and more.”
“It has been an honor to partner with the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce to support the Bootcamp from the beginning,” said Deithorn of Rivers Casino. “These veterans made selfless sacrifices during their enlistments to ensure our nation's freedoms. Rivers Casino is proud to support the program's goal of assisting military veterans with the transition to successful and fulfilling civilian careers.”
Program participants have been hired in diverse fields; recent employers include Accenture, Des Plaines Police Department, LSG Sky Chefs, Jewel-Osco, Mariano’s, Kronecranes, Search Inc., Edward Jones, Lincolnshire- Riverwoods Fire Protection district, Daily Herald Media Group, American Eagle, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and others.
“We are so grateful for the men and women of the armed forces,” said Biwer. “Veterans Boot Camp is an important way to support the people who put their lives on the line for our country.”
The Des Plaines Chamber Back to Work Boot Camp is on Windy City Live!
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Daily Herald Special Section "Giving Veterans a Helping Hand"
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