Giving Back To Veterans

Local veterans had the opportunity to connect with representatives from several area businesses and organizations within one centralized location.

On Saturday, the Chautauqua County Veterans Service Agency hosted its first employment and benefits counseling job fair, which was free to all veterans and their dependants.

The fair ran from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., and was held at the Jamestown National Guard Armory. Mike Rauh, the agency’s veterans services officer, said he was pleased with the attendance for the event.

“I’m surprised we got as many employers to turn out as we did,” he said. “The National Guard did a wonderful job getting everything set up for us, Farm Fresh Foods made us a gorgeous cake and I’m glad people were willing to donate their time and come out.”

A variety of employers and organizations participated in the event, including Jamestown Business College, The Resource Center, the Blue Star Mothers, Home Depot, Chautauqua Opportunities, the Veterans Service Agency, Heritage Ministries, the National Guard, Jamestown Community College and the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Department.

A handful of veterans also attended the fair in hopes of finding local jobs and benefit packages. Armando Arce, a veteran who served a 2008 tour in Afghanistan and a 2012 tour in Kuwait, said he came to the fair because the number of job offerings in his field are limited in this area.

“When I came back, I already had a plan that I was going to finish college,” said Arce, who received a bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University. “The next step is to find a job opportunity. In this region, even though I got a degree, there’s relatively few jobs that are in my field. So, I’ve got the degree and education that this region wants, but they don’t have the jobs. So I’ll probably have to relocate to find a job. But, I’m keeping my eyes open.”

Brian Briggs, a veteran who served from 1989-92, said though he hasn’t had difficulty finding a job in the area, he came to the fair in hopes of finding a new job with benefits.

“When I got out, I didn’t know about the law that (said) if you had a job before you served, they have to give you your job back. So, within four months, I got my job back at Bush Industries,” said Briggs, who now works as a truck driver for Brigiotta’s Farmland Produce. “I’m just trying to find something with better benefits, so I was told to come and see what they had here. I’ve got a job, and I’m not hurting, but I’ve got to have benefits for my family.”

According to Ryan Waller, veterans outreach specialist for Chautauqua Opportunities, veterans have much to contribute to the workforce.

“Veterans have a unique ability to adapt to their environment, that’s the best thing about being a veteran,” he said. “They can adapt to any situation in any work environment, through skills obtained while in service. Almost like a chameleon. So, that ability is going to be the key in hiring veterans.”

Sgt. Ron Dechard, who is in the corrections division of the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Department, said the hiring of veterans in the police force is common due to similar training and organizational practices.

“We definitely have an interest in hiring veterans,” he said. “The training and structure of (the military) organization, and with our department being a paramilitary organization as it is, with a command structure, really is automatically a good fit for them in going into this line of work. The dedication and mentality (of veterans) are very positive traits.”

Dechard reported a good showing for the sheriff’s department table during the job fair, with more than 40 veterans looking into full-time and part-time job opportunities.

To find out more about the Chautauqua County Veterans Service Agency, and their offerings for veterans, call the Dunkirk office at 363-3842 or the Jamestown office at 661-8255. To stay updated on current information from the department and the military community, visit the “Chautauqua County Veterans Service Agency” Facebook page.