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May 1, 2017
On the record

Boots2Roots: Helping returning veterans find meaningful employment

Photo / Tim Greenway
Photo / Tim Greenway
Jen Fullmer says she thinks of Boots2Roots not as a veterans' organization but as a community-integration organization.

Jen Fullmer retired as a colonel from the U.S. Air Force in 2015 after 24 years of service, during which she flew 90 B-1 combat missions to Afghanistan and Iraq. She is executive director of Boots2Roots, a Maine-based nonprofit that helps returning veterans put down roots here with meaningful employment.

Boots2Roots, which gained nonprofit status in May 2016, connects military personnel planning to leave the armed services and settle in Maine with training and education opportunities and with potential employers.

Mainebiz: How would you describe Boots2Roots' mission?

Jen Fullmer: Our mission is to bridge the gap from serving our country to strengthening Maine communities, by providing personalized, proactive support for active duty military members and their families who are transitioning to Maine, focused on employment, building networking connections based on trust, and navigating transition services. What makes us unique is that we are the only organization in Maine specifically focused on connecting with soon-to-be veterans — we call them our teammates — while they are still on active duty to help them prepare early for a successful transition.

MB: Why get started so early?

JF: Many studies have shown that financial stability and social reintegration with the community is critical for a successful transition from military to civilian life. Finding fulfilling and decent, living-wage paying jobs can take time. We network for our teammates and help them prepare while they are still on active duty so they can successfully hit the ground running and quickly gain financial stability when they arrive in Maine.

MB: What can you tell us about those you have already helped?

JF: We are currently working with 12 active-duty members who will return at various times over the next few months. Of the three teammates who returned last year, two were employed within two months of separating, and the other is about to graduate from an HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] training course run by the Maine Energy Marketers Association and already has one job lead. Our first teammate to come to Maine in 2017 returned at the end of March and was hired into a federal job, while another teammate was recently accepted to the University of Southern Maine master's program for teaching.

MB: How do you help veterans market themselves to employers?

JF: We spend the most time helping our teammates determine where they can add the most value to Maine employers, while balancing their top skills with a passion for the work. As such, a tremendous amount of time is spent working on resumes and interview preparation. It takes a lot of time and effort to translate military terminology to civilian industry terminology so that employers can gain a clear understanding of how our teammates can help drive their mission forward.

MB: What should companies know about hiring veterans?

JF: Our newly transitioning teammates want meaningful employment, they want to make positive contributions to the organization, and they are ready to work hard to prove it. They aren't expecting employers to modify work environments or make any exceptions or adjustments to accommodate a military culture; they are ready to be a part of the company's culture. Our teammates return from the military after having a responsible job and almost everyone who's been in at least four years has had at least some supervisory experience. Additionally, due to the nature of military operations and management, these veterans offer employers a loyal, reliable, dedicated, determined, adaptable, pro-active, problem-solving team player and critical thinker.

MB: What is Boots2Roots looking for in volunteers?

JF: One of the most important aspects of Boots2Roots is personalized service and trust. Our volunteers who work one-on-one with our teammates are called front-line volunteers, and these are the only volunteers that we require to be veterans that retired or separated within the last five years, helping establish an instant rapport. We're also looking for new board members. It is important that the Boots2Roots board of directors consists of at least 50% civilians because we are not a veterans' organization, we are a community integration organization.

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