(Tory Ryden, NEWS CENTER) -- “Ready to search for apartments today?” 28 year old Callie Johnson is asked, as she walks into employment offices at the Portland-based Easter Seals.
It’s a big day for Callie. She’s hoping to find a permanent place to call home. For the past 3 weeks, she’s been sleeping in her truck.
“It’s a jeep. It’s, it’s brand new and, uh, so I’ve got to pay that payment so yeah.” And that may be a tall order. Callie hasn’t had a job for a while and isn’t sure she’ll be able to make the car payment.
“I was really depressed. And went through a rough time,” she explains. “I paid some of my bills and pretty much just got in the car and left; I didn’t know what else to do because I was drowning you could say.”
Callie is a veteran of the U.S. Navy. Following boot camp, she landed at a base in Florida in the seaman apprenticeship program. “I worked at the restricted barracks. I basically watched over people, made sure they were still in the building.”
What happened there is difficult for Callie to talk about. It was a painful period—her military career ended. “There’s a lot of challenges to reintegration,” shared Rhiannon Guzelian, an employment specialist with Easter Seals. “I admire Callie so much. Sometimes you meet someone with a sense of resilience that you just want to bottle and she is that to a tee!”
Guzelian works directly with veterans like Callie. She too is a veteran---she served 7 years in the air force as an air battle manager, which “is basically command and control and intel surveillance and reconnaissance. I flew with the EEC joint stars during that time.”
She landed a job with the Easter Seals when their Homeless Veterans Reintegration program got funded. “It’s so cool to get out of service and to be able to keep working with your fellow veterans because you really get each other and there’s this unspoken bond. Some things you just don’t have to say and there’s an ease between you.”
And that bond has kept Callie Johnson in one place for the first time in years. “Ever since I’ve been here I’ve worked with Rhiannon almost every day,” she said. The two have been chasing down job leads for Callie---editing her resume and filling out multiple job applications.
And, that hard work appears to have paid off. Callie landed a job at the Portland Jetport. It’s a job that will be instrumental in helping her move ahead, away from that dark time in Florida. “I’m going to be a ramp agent, I’m in training right now. It’s pretty cool though,” Callie explained excitedly. “You get to see the planes coming in and stuff like that.”
In the employment office, experts are ironing out the details of what it will take to successfully set up Callie to work and live in southern Maine.
“We’ll also look into her EZ Pass situation and get her set up with those services so she can get to or from which is really important in this area,” explained one of her mentors. “I’ll also bring out the applications for furniture support.”
With the job-related details being worked out, therapy and other services lined up, there is just one more hurdle. “Yeah, I’m just ready to get an apartment.” She knows, with the help of the Easter Seals that will happen soon. Callie Johnson is also fully aware of how far she has come in just three weeks, and how things might have gone had she not found the Easter Seals Military and Veterans Services program. “I would be really lost probably still and I would probably have just gone back to the same old routine. Just get another job, try to pay my bills and,” Callie choked up, “just go through life.”
Callie Johnson says for the first time in ten years, she feels as though she has a solid support system and a future to be excited about. “For the most part, I’ve felt a lot better. I’ve had some days that were not so good but for the most part,” Callie shared, “I think this is probably the best I’ve felt in a long time.
For information on Job programs for Veterans, or to contact a care coordinator directly email Stacy Leet at email@example.com or call (207) 828-0754 extension 1004.
The Maine Department of Labor also has special programs for veterans. Their “Hire a Vet” program encourages Maine companies and individuals to put veterans at the top of their list when searching for a job candidate. http://www.mainecareercenter.gov/employment/veterans.shtml
The MDOL’s career center assists veterans and the spouses of veterans with special training as well as help with resume writing, interview skills, guidance in translating military skills to civilian workforce jobs, referrals to other state and federal resources that are available to veterans.
The group Hire a Veteran also seeks the community’s involvement in making Maine veterans a priority. http://www.hireaveteran.com/find-jobs/maine-veteran-jobs/
The group “Stars and Stripes” hosts an active website chock full of positions specifically for veterans. http://veteranjobs.stripes.com/jobs/by/state/ME/Maine