Richard Payton served his country for nine years in the United States Air Force, but the former medical service specialist recently found himself homeless, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and in need of assistance. For Payton, who proudly served his country in Operation Desert Storm, help came in the form of a Goodwill program specifically designed to help veterans get back on their feet.
Established in September 2010, Operation Open Doors offers “New Beginnings…New Hope” for homeless unemployed or underemployed veterans of the United States military. Many of the veterans served by the program are disabled. By offering vocational evaluation, employment and training services, placement assistance and post employment follow-up, Operation Open Doors aims to help acclimate veterans back into society.
Funding From the Federal Government
Operation Open Doors was recently awarded funding from the U.S. Department of Labor Veterans Employment & Training Services (VETS) and Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program to continue helping veterans in the Coastal Empire for the next year. The $192,107 grant was one of 122 awarded to programs around the nation that provide veterans who are homeless or those who are at risk of being homeless with the necessary job training to segue into civilian careers. “We are so pleased to receive this grant from the Department of Labor VETS and Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program for another year,” says Mohsen Badran, CEO of Goodwill Industries of the Coastal Empire, Inc. “The funding is a vote of confidence from the federal government and an acknowledgement that our program has successfully helped veterans in our community.”
Helping Veterans in the Coastal Empire
Since its inception, Operation Open Doors has helped more than 132 veterans in the Coastal Empire. Those receiving assistance span the generations: the oldest veteran participating in the program is 64, while the youngest is just 24. The program has successfully placed 46 veterans in jobs at local companies and organizations including the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System, Lord Eye Center, Smoke Station BBQ, Roger Wood Foods, Ranco Tent Rentals, Planters Inn, Outback Steakhouse and Weyerhaeuser, among others. In addition, 94 veterans have been referred to housing programs.
Tabeter Robinson, Program Manager for Operation Open Doors, encourages local companies to consider hiring veterans. “In addition to the tax credit benefit of hiring a veteran, employers can be assured that they have a committed and dependable worker,” Robinson says, noting that the structure the veterans had in the military can be an asset to future employers. “Structures such as punctuality, organization, team work and integrity that the veterans learned in the military are also some of the same qualities an employer would seek in a prospective employee.”
New Horizons: Partnership with International Paper
A new partnership between Goodwill Industries and International Paper promises even more opportunities for homeless veterans in the Coastal Empire. Veterans who participate in Operation Open Doors are helping the paper giant recycle wooden core plugs. The partnership first began when International Paper was faced with an unexpected challenge after one of its major suppliers had its plant taken offline by a fire. “We were suddenly without a steady flow of core plugs to use in our paper roll process, and other sources for core plugs needed to be sought quickly. Since then, Goodwill of the Coastal Empire has really stepped in to help us in our time of need,” says Ty Cobb, purchasing store manager of the International Paper Savannah Mill. “Our partnership has had the added benefit of assisting homeless veterans in the process. This is truly a win-win for everyone in our community.”
In addition to creating valuable income to fund Goodwill programs such as Operation Open Doors, the wooden core plug recycling program gives the veterans invaluable work experience, which enables them to qualify for government housing assistance. The program also saves International Paper thousands of dollars and helps the environment by diverting the wooden core plugs from entering landfills.
Getting Back on His Feet
Richard Payton was one of the first veterans selected to participate in the International Paper wooden core recycling program. With the training he is receiving through Operation Open Doors and the recycling program, he is acquiring the skills he needs to be gainfully employed and secure housing. “I am very thankful for this program,” says Payton, who lost housing, employment and the quality of life he once enjoyed because of his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for which he is currently being evaluated. “It will allow me to get housing through the HUD Veteran Supportive Housing program that works with Section 8. I am looking forward to ending my homelessness and having a key to a house and a new beginning.”