NEW YORK, May 21, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The war on violence in America's communities just got a bit more winnable. A brave group of American veteran leaders have banded together to join the campaign to save America's youth from tragic gun violence. A battle they would rather not have to fight, but these veterans are perhaps the best suited force in America with the credibility, experience and commitment to win.
Veterans Across America – which has helped more than 9,000 former service men and women gain civilian employment since its origin in 1996 – has launched Project VALOR, to employ more recently-returning veterans as mentors to at-risk, inner city youth (pre-teen years) to help curb gun violence and avert gang recruitment of impressionable kids at risk. (VALOR is an acronym for Veteran Adult Leadership for Operation Re-Deployment.)
According to VAA board member Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle (ret), former Army Deputy Chief of Staff: "With only 1% of Americans having served in the military, the result is apathy when it comes to a moral duty to provide employment for our veterans. This national apathy extends to our at-risk inner city kids and to combating the forces of hopelessness which surround them. We must change the debate in this country to both employ our veterans and save our most vulnerable kids from destruction.
VAA founder Wesley Poriotis said, "Project VALOR returns many of these veterans to urban centers where they began and begs the question: If we can deploy our military to fight overseas, why shouldn't we provide these brave service men and women with an employment opportunity that will re-deploy them as veteran mentors in partnership with community based organizations to help save America's at-risk youth – especially those at impressionable pre-teen ages before gangs recruit them?"
According to the Children's Defense Fund, an American child or teen is killed or injured every 30 minutes by gun violence. "The raging national debate over what to do (or not) about it," Mr. Poriotis says, "could well be served by intervention by veterans through Project VALOR. More law enforcement is not the answer; veterans can be the solution."
He further notes that the primary job skill that VALOR intends to make use of is LEADERSHIP. It is the perfect intersection of engaging veterans so that they can in turn lead at-risk youth away from violence, and gang and gun involvement.
Veterans engaged in providing life coaching for our most vulnerable children marks an alternative pathway from street gangs, drug dealers, a lack of economic opportunities and failing school systems. At the same time, the veteran, especially as a male role model, can look back to his origins for a sobering sense that "There but for the grace of God – and the military – is where I was headed."
VAA, a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization, will use its contacts with Community Based Organizations (CBO) to enhance their programs with youth by connecting veterans with kids at risk who require the life coaching to transition to adulthood. Funds are being raised to hire and train veterans for mentorship deployment at the outset in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark, New York City, Boston, and throughout Connecticut towns including Bridgeport, Hartford, and New London for Project VALOR.
Plans call for a supply chain of 200 veterans to be ready and available for the aforementioned Community Based Organizations. Initially, each veteran will mentor and serve 25 kids. Over the first 16 months, 20 veterans will be employed full-time and embedded in select CBOs to serve 500 of them. The veterans will be trained to work with kids through a mentoring program administered by Big Brothers Big Sisters taught by the Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service – a 32-hour course including education in adolescent development and components of mentoring.
Members of the VAA Board of Directors have these observations about Project Valor:
Adonis Hoffman, a professor at Georgetown University and former General Counsel of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said that when policymakers debate issues surrounding violence in our communities, they often overlook one of our nation's greatest resources. "Veterans, he said, "can play a key role right in their own communities at little or no cost to the government. The VAA solution is brilliant because it is so simple and addresses two of our nation's problems – putting veterans to work and giving our kids role models with the credibility and commitment to help counter the forces which seduce kids into gangs and into violence."
West Point Alum Ed Clemons, a retired Army Lt. Colonel and corporate senior HR executive in Philadelphia is currently the Vice Chairman of the USO of Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. He notes that returning veterans with as many as eight or nine deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan can offer particularly valuable experience to young people at risk within urban cultures of violence. "Veterans are well positioned to help kids fulfill their potential," he said, "to stay in school, and to get them to stay on a positive track with their lives by providing meaningful life planning."
Claudette Whiting, the former head of both DuPont and Microsoft's worldwide diversity programs quoted a 2009 study by Iowa State that, "A single murder runs up more than $17 million cost to police, courts, prisons, social services, and to the families of victims and suspects. Project VALOR is a public health approach: spending a few thousand dollars to engage a veteran to avert gang recruitment and future violence is both a moral and dollars and cents return on investment."
Old Saybrook, Connecticut resident Vietnam veteran and Army combat medic Paul Kwasniewski: "In 1968, I helped save the life of our Secretary of Defense Chuck Hegel who had been injured after an armored personnel carrier blew up. I didn't rescue him and hundreds of other soldiers to sit by now passively while our soldiers suffer and a new war is raging in the towns in my own state. On 9/11, to get visibility for Project VALOR, I plan to swim across the Hudson River and, if need be, every river in America.
VAA originated in 1995 following a request by Admiral William A. Owen, then Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to former Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Burch, to Mr. Poriotis and his colleague, Barbara Mendez-Tucker, who have been making the case to leading corporations, based on years of experience and success placing veterans in major companies -- for a study on the obstacles Gulf War veterans faced in transitioning to civilian employment. In September of the following year, Mr. Poriotis met with President Bill Clinton to brief him on the study. Thereafter, at the President's request, Mr, Poriotis founded a 501 (c) non-profit, Veterans Across America.
In 2004, 2005, and 2006, Mr. Poriotis' numerous testimonies to both the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees on the need aggressively to market the value of military service to America's employers, led to a VAA-created mentoring program fostering job creation for the long-term military unemployed – a forerunner of Project VALOR.
Contact: Bill Schechter (845) 679-6878
Wesley Poriotis (212) 684-1122
Cell: (860) 917-6235
SOURCE Veterans Across America