[Originally published in Queens Ledger]
Jericho Project opened its first Queens-based Veterans Resource Center in Ozone Park last Friday.
The 35-year-old nonprofit organization’s original mission was to fight homelessness. In 2006, the group started the Veterans Initiative, which now serves 750 veterans annually.
The initiative includes two state-of-the-art residences for veterans in the Bronx, housing placement, and employment services, as well as developing programs for eviction prevention and legal assistance.
CEO Tori Lyon met Councilman Eric Ulrich three years ago. Since then, Ulrich has allocated over $400,000 to Jericho Project’s efforts through the City Council’s Veterans Fund.
Ulrich connected Jericho Project to the a local chapter of the Knights of Columbus, and the two organizations were able to create an office space within the hall.
“If a veteran is getting evicted, or if a veteran is homeless or about to be homeless, we can help them find an apartment and even help them pay their rent with financial assistance,” Lyon said. “We have a lot of connections with employers who are interested in hiring veterans, and we work very individually with the veterans to find something that works with their goals and what they like to do.”
Jericho Project career counselor and Air Force veteran Tony Rivera helps veterans prepare resumes and conducts mock job interviews.
“I can’t guarantee veterans a job, but one thing I can do is assist them with preparation for employment and making them job ready,” he said. “When you’re being interviewed, it can be brutal, so I’ll help them learn how to address some of these questions with techniques rather than go in and get blindsided.”
Once Rivera and the veteran completes the resume, he sends it to Jericho Project’s employment specialist, who will then contact “veteran-friendly” local employers. He also encourages the veterans to send out resumes on their own.
“With you doing your part and us doing our part, chances are that someone will call you,” Rivera said.
Kimberlin Vasquez, an employment specialist with the group, said that local employers include property managers, retailers, startups in Brooklyn and seven different security guard companies, such as Watch Guard 24/7 in Middle Village.
“It all depends on the veterans and what skill set they bring,” she said. “We have a vast network of community boards where we can reach out to employers to present the skill set our veterans bring in.”
For older veterans, there are also stipend-based opportunities for those who are just looking for part-time work.
Jericho Project invited community members to the Veterans Resource Center’s open house last Friday. The center’s two staffers have already visited local homeless shelters, job centers, American Legion posts and VFW halls to get the word out.
“The plan is to help veterans and help get them out of homeless shelters and off the street,” said outreach coordinator George Mills. “We’re trying to make it a one-stop shop. If they need VA assistance, I’d get them into the VA, and there’s a psychiatric staff from NYU that’s available for post-traumatic stress.”
The new Veterans Resource Center at 135-45 Lefferts Boulevard will be open, for now, on Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. According to Mills, their availability will expand if they see there is the need for their services.
“We have a wide array of services and Queens is very underserved in veteran services, so we are definitely happy to have a presence here,” Lyon said.