Lori Kiefer knows what it's like to be a veteran looking for a job in Southern Arizona. The Army veteran and Tucson resident is an employment specialist for Project HERO, a program with a mission to help disabled veterans get job training, find jobs and start careers. The goal is to serve 240 people per year. Their services are free; participants must be unemployed, provide proof of military service and provide proof of disability. Call 790-7677 for more information.
What exactly is Project HERO?
We offer job-seeking skills, employment-retention services, computer training, peer support, job coaching and mentoring. I ... can help veterans with their disability claims if they need to file with (Veterans Affairs). We try to be as much of a one-stop office as possible, so our veterans don't have to go to different people for their needs. If we can help them here in our office, we will. There is no cost to the veteran or the employer for our services. Project HERO is a project ... funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration. ... We serve veterans with either service-connected or non-service-connected disabilities.
When did you start with Project HERO?
I started working with dk Advocates and the Project Hero program in April 2009. I learned about the program from a friend, and my career goal was to work in the behavioral-health field ... and to work with veterans. I was offered the job and can honestly say this is my dream job.
I am a veteran myself, and can relate to and understand other veterans. I feel this program is very worthwhile for our veterans who are looking for employment. I can honestly say that the individuals enrolled in this program are awesome people, and I want to do what I can to help them.
How important of a role do you feel Project HERO has here in Tucson?
I feel Project HERO has a very important role in our community. We have numerous veterans in this area, and many of them need help with employment. Our veterans have fought for our country, and now we need to help them so they are able to support themselves and their families. I want to be able to have our veterans working and not on the streets of Tucson, homeless. We have many veterans who have recently gotten out of the military and don't have a job to come back to; if we can be out in the community, advocating for them with employers, then we have won and helped our veterans.
Are employers usually pretty excited about partnerships with Project HERO?
Some employers are. The problem is getting in to speak with employers. With the job market the way it is right now, employers are not wanting to talk with outside agencies, since they are getting so many résumés on their own. It would be really nice to be able to speak with more employers about our program.
What types of jobs do you typically find for these veterans? Is there a wide range?
It really depends on the type of job a veteran is looking for. I have found medical positions, VA positions, dishwashers, cooks. Kind of everything.
Is it important to do more than just find them a job?
Yes. I am there to help them, even if it is to help (them get into) school, file a VA disability claim or help with other matters. Even though my job is helping them find employment, it goes beyond that. I have clients call me just for advice or to ask me about schooling, etc. I do what I can to go above and beyond what is expected of me. My clients know they can call me all the time, and I will be there to help them. Many of my clients have not worked in quite some time, and it is beneficial for me to refer them to another agency or see what we can do to help them get the job skills they need. I continue to follow up with my clients even after they have gotten a job to make sure everything is going OK. Just because we were able to help them find a job, that does not mean I am done with that client. I will continue to work with them for up to a year, if need be.