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October 2, 2017
2017 Next honorees

Next 2017: Boots2Roots' executive director Jen Fullmer is on a mission to 'see people succeed'

PHOTo / Tim Greenway
PHOTo / Tim Greenway
Jen Fullmer, executive director of Boots2Roots, meets with Caleb Fournier (left), a veteran transitioning out of the Army, to prepare for a job interview along with Boots2Roots volunteer Bruce MacMillan.

Jen Fullmer

Executive director Boots2Roots, Portland

Boots2Roots

428 Fore St., 3rd Floor, Portland

Executive director: Jen Fullmer

Contact: (207) 329 5077 / director@boots2roots.org / www.boots2roots.org

About 10 months before retiring from the U.S. Air Force, stationed in Florida, Jon Beauchamp got in touch with Boots2Roots, a Portland nonprofit that helps people separating or retiring from the military land on their feet in Maine.

Beauchamp, who grew up in Maine, was looking to get into the education field after 24 years of military service. While on the Maine Department of Labor website, he clicked through to Boots2Roots and contacted its executive director, Jen Fullmer.

Having mentored young Air Force recruits, Beauchamp applied to a master's in education program at the University of Southern Maine. While he worked on the application, Fullmer connected him with useful contacts at the school. He was accepted to the program and started in August, which includes a teaching internship in an eighth-grade classroom, and is about to buy a house through a Realtor that Fullmer had recommended. Fullmer "helped with everything from A to Z," says Beauchamp, who liked the fact that she had also been in the Air Force, even on some of the same bases. "She's very high energy, she's a very positive person, and she wants to help out wherever she can. She helped smooth the process."

Beauchamp is among a growing list of Boots2Roots "teammates" Fullmer is helping quickly transition back into civilian life. Boots2Roots helps veterans find worthy jobs and helps them connect with the community through school and church referrals or whatever else they may need. To help them find meaningful employment, Boots2Roots facilitates contacts and helps with resume and interview preparation rather than acting as a job-search service.

"We don't place people," Fullmer says. "We team with them to help them get prepared, and network, to get employed within two months of getting back."

She also doesn't cold-call employers but makes contacts in various ways, such as events hosted by the likes of Rotary Club and the Greater Portland Chamber of Commerce. All that takes time, and she laughs about being as busy now as when serving as a colonel in the Air Force.

"It takes time to build an organization, it takes time to build a reputation, it takes time to get our message out there," she says. "We're focused on making the returning military member success, but we also have a vested interest in making sure that we're facilitating good talent for Maine employers."

Once she makes a human resources contact, that's someone she can call when there is an opening and she has a qualified person to recommend.

Serving Maine

Fullmer describes herself as a "servant leader" in her LinkedIn profile, "24 years for Uncle Sam … the rest of my life for the community of Maine." She retired from the Air Force in 2014 after flying 90 combat missions to Afghanistan and Iraq.

She landed at Boots2Roots after moving to Maine with her husband, also a veteran. Boots2Roots was co-founded in 2014 by Dave Hickey, a West Gardiner native who had been an instructor of Fullmer's in the Air Force, and John Manganello, who had worked in the private sector.

When Hickey asked Fullmer to serve on Boots2Roots' board, she agreed right away. "We then quickly realized that to have the capacity to be able to really build this program, and help people on a larger scale throughout the state of Maine, we really needed somebody to take the time to build it and pull the team together," she says, "so I raised my hand."

Fullmer became executive director in March 2016, two months before Boots2Roots gained official 501(c)3 nonprofit status. She takes no salary for her full-time job while pursuing an online master's in human services through Kaplan University that she hopes to complete in January.

Originally working from her Biddeford home, she recently moved into a Portland office, where she keeps color-coded wall charts of all teammates listing their return and employment dates.

For confidentiality purposes they're identified only by their initials, but of the nine who are employed she's able to say that one is a police officer, one is at Bath Iron Works, one is working in the fuel propane gas industry, one has purchased a leadership consulting franchise, one is working for a nonprofit in Biddeford and one is in Veterans Affairs at the Togus Medical Center in Augusta. Of the 13 other teammates on the board, three arrived here in August and are interviewing for jobs. Ideally, Boots2Roots starts working with teammates six to 12 months before they leave active duty.

As she seeks more board members and Mainers who have recently left the military to act as mentors, Fullmer remains focused on the mission.

"What motivates me to do this is that I love to see people succeed. This is a win-win situation, because Maine is struggling to find and retain talent, and the folks that I've been working with are motivated, ready to join the civilian community, ready to give back to the community, ready with energy and ideas, and a humility to listen to how they can use their experiences to move the missions forward for the companies that hire them."

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