The next week, the career development specialist with the Salvation Army Haven was being introduced by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti at City Hall as part of the Mayor's 10,000 Strong Veterans Hiring Initiative.
The goal of the Mayor's initiative - undertaken in partnership with multiple business and nonprofits including JVS - is to put 10,000 veterans back to work in the City of Los Angeles by 2017.
Watkins, who served two tours of duty in Iraq, had run up against barriers to employment once she returned stateside and as she was finishing up her graduate degree in Fresno. Things weren't much better in Los Angeles.
JVS helped her, both in terms of polishing up her resume and interviewing skills and by finding a position at Salvation Army Haven, a nonprofit with which we frequently partner.
Watkins' speech is below. You can also catch it on youtube.
"Hello everyone, my name is Christina and I am a U.S. veteran who served in Iraq. I stand before you today employed. However, my path to a job was not an easy one and it can be similarly challenging to the thousands of unemployed veterans out there.
Let me tell you a little bit about myself. Following my second deployment, I decided to leave the service. I worked for awhile in my hometown in NY before deciding to pursue my graduate degree in Fresno. As I approached graduation, I started looking for jobs, and I got nothing. No bites. So I decided to come down here to LA where I stayed for a very long time sleeping on an air mattress at my aunt’s, joining the thousands of veterans who fall under the couch surfing homeless category. Like many veterans, I had a lot of skills that just didn’t translate well on paper. I could do a million things, but I had little experience how to tell potential employers that while I might not have the exact skills or experience they were looking for, I had the right foundational skills such that with minimal training, I could do exactly what they needed.
In the military we are taught special values and skills including leadership, initiative, teamwork communication and getting the job done under often very adverse conditions. These are skills that we will bring to the civilian workplace, and they will be valued by any employers
But despite having a Masters degree and strong transferable skills, I couldn’t even get a job as a barista at Starbucks.
Ultimately I went to my local EDD office where I was referred to the WorkSource Center operated by JVS of LA. At JVS, I worked with Alex Mack, another veteran who told me how to better translate my skills and sharpen my interview techniques. Alex also advocated strongly on my behalf with potential employers. I went through workshops where I learned to articulate my strengths and developed a plan to get the job I wanted. I networked and met with other job seekers. We shared information and pushed each other to do better. With Alex’s help and through those experiences, I ended up acquiring the highest paying civilian job I have ever had. I now work with the Salvation Army Haven Veteran Employee Services where I provide the same type of assistance to other veterans that was provided to me by JVS. In my current job I help prepare other veterans to stand out as highly qualified job candidates and help employers find pre-screened qualified veteran talent.
I want to thank the Mayor for the 10,000 Strong hiring initiative as it recognizes the unique and sometime extensive challenges faced by our veterans. It also recognizes the skills our veterans bring to the workforce. I recently saw a poster that said “It took strength to serve. It can seem even harder to ask for help. Our military members are accustomed to getting things done and taking care of others. So it can be a challenge to reach out and admit when we aren’t getting it down on our own. This initiative makes it easier for veterans to reach out, as it makes clear that there is something to reach towards.
I previously mentioned the Salvation Army and JVS. I also want to express my appreciation to everyone here today who is part of making sure that veterans find meaningful employment. Both as a veteran and as someone serving the veteran community, I thank the city of Los Angeles and the employers who have partnered with the Mayor in support of the 10,000 Strong Hiring initiative.
Thank you, and have a great day."