Boots2Roots Program Director Bill Bensen and Executive Director Jen Fuller
Recovery is more than just not using substances; it’s also about building a stable life in all realms – career, relationships, spirituality, support network and more. Support in any of these areas is, of course, helpful.
That’s the aim of Boots2Roots, which fills a unique niche by preparing members of the military who are leaving active duty to successfully find meaningful employment in Maine.
The 501(c)(3) organization was founded by veteran retired Air Force Col. Dave Hickey and his co-worker John Manganello, who is not a veteran.
When Hickey returned to his home of Maine, it didn’t take long for him to experience the challenges many military members face. Hickey and Manganello decided there needed to be a solution, and from that, Boots2Roots was born. It is now led by Jen Fullmer, an Air Force veteran with 24 years in the service, and Bill Benson, a 24-year Army veteran.
It’s the only organization in Maine focused on proactively preparing soon-to-be veterans up to a year before they come home, meaning that the process can start well before actual transitions. During this period, Boots2Roots provides personalized career, résumé and interview coaching; peer mentoring; and networking with Maine business and community connections.
At Boots2Roots, the word ‘client’ isn’t used – participants are called ‘teammates’ because they’re really working together for the common goal: finding “well-paying, meaningful employment within two months of arriving in Maine and remaining in their first post-military job for at least one year,” explains Fullmer. “Our results illustrate that finding meaningful employment quickly is key to a successful transition and that success begins with preparation and networking months in advance.”
Boots2Roots has a proven model for success: 88% of those enrolled in the program find employment within two months of arriving in Maine, 100% within five months. B2R teammates are employed with more than 45 companies across the state from Presque Isle to Berwick. And B2R continues to expand its network of Maine employers and taking an active role in providing workforce supply solutions for Maine. It’s currently working with Live and Work in Maine and the Maine Bureau of Veterans Services on proactive outreach initiatives.
Beyond providing successful employment, Boots2Roots creates community.
Transitioning from military life to civilian life can be challenging, with culture shock and unique stressors that haven’t been faced before. Transitional help is especially useful in states like Maine that don’t have active-duty military bases and associated community networks. Boots2Roots helps families put down roots in Maine by building connections, reducing anxiety and highlighting the unique skills they offer employers.
“In addition to our valued network of great Maine employers, Boots2Roots is part of a broader Maine military and community network that enables us to connect our Teammates with any number of community resources throughout Maine,” said Fullmer.
Whether in or out of recovery, everyone needs support. Organizations like Boots2Roots provide “an ounce of prevention.” They’re on the front lines of military transition to Maine and dedicated to setting people up for success.