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Hundreds of thousands of dollars for veterans’ training will go away in two months.

Monterey County Weekly, July 3, 2008

Joseph Werner desperately wants to give away nearly $200,000– before the money disappears.

About a year ago, the state awarded the Monterey County Workforce Development Board $500,000 in federal money to pay for schooling and training opportunities for local veterans.

“We still have between $175,000 and $200,000 that we can commit to vets and it’s going away on Sept. 30,” says Werner, executive director of the WDB. “We need to find a way to encourage vets who are returning from foreign campaigns, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, to take advantage of it. Otherwise this community will lose this opportunity.”

Veterans who qualify for the program receive up to $5,000 to pay for higher education or vocational training based in the region. In addition to tuition, the money also may be used to cover books, transportation costs, child-care services and the like.

“In an environment that has an 8 percent unemployment rate almost throughout the county– and 11.2 percent unemployment in Salinas– the opportunity to enhance and refine your skills by going to any school, up to $5,000 is significant,” Werner says. “We’ve got the opportunity to train between 30 and 40 more people, but we need to figure out a way to do it rather quickly.”

Florence McAttee is a 30-year-old veteran who did two tours of duty in Iraq. She joined the Army straight out of high school after driving a friend to the recruiter’s office (McAttee was the only one with a car and a driver’s license.) McAttee wanted to see the world and receive information technology training, and the Army promised her both. She was among the first deployed for a year when the Iraq war started in 2003; she spent another year in Iraq from November 2005 to November 2006. McAttee got out in March 2007 and began looking for a job, applying to three or four tech companies every week. Her résumé showed years of experience as an information systems analyst in the military but didn’t produce any return calls from would-be employers. “Six years experience in the field,” McAttee says, “and it was really hard for me to get a job without a college degree.”

She learned about the veterans grant at the One-Stop Career Center, which is overseen by the WDB, applied for it and received $2,000, which, in addition to Montgomery GI Bill money and other financial aid, paid for a year of computer science at California State University Monterey Bay. “The county money helps,” McAttee says. “It’s a good opportunity.”

Bob Rede, 58, served in the Army from 1970-72, and then spent the next 30-plus years working in restaurants. Most recently, he managed California Pizza Kitchen before leaving for health reasons. “I wanted a new career,” he says.

Rede learned about the veteran’s grant at One Stop, and working with a counselor there, he decided to pursue a business accounting degree at Monterey Peninsula College. He started taking classes full time in June, and he’ll earn his associate’s degree next July. He hopes to get a job at a local firm and work while he takes university classes and, later, studies for the Certified Public Accountant exam. He says he initially felt nervous about going back to school. “I was apprehensive, but now I feel useful again,” he says. “I feel I can do something different with my life.”

For more information, or to apply for a grant, contact Terry Gallardo, One Stop Career Center, 730 La Guardia St., Salinas. 796-3600.

By Jessica Lyons

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