By Kerry McGinley
When Denise Perka took to the podium, she was pleasantly surprised at the size of the audience. She was presenting an overview of SourceAmerica’s strategy to support employment for veterans with disabilities at the National Council of SourceAmerica Employers meeting in Chicago Aug. 15, and the room was full. The audience -- representatives from SourceAmerica’s affiliated nonprofits -- was eager to learn more about how to create more opportunities for veterans with disabilities work in the network of almost 800 nonprofits.
“This was an add-on to the NCSE meeting; there were 45 nonprofit agencies that took extra time out of their schedule and stayed for it,” she said. “We got a lot of positive feedback.”
Perka, senior program manager in the SourceAmerica Strategy and Innovation Department, shared the stage with Gloria Dent, director of Strategic Veterans Initiatives for the U.S. AbilityOne Commission. Their presentation focused on what affiliated nonprofit agencies are doing to create employment opportunities for veterans with disabilities and how SourceAmerica contributes to those efforts.
“The whole point of the presentation was to share with the nonprofit agencies the proposed veterans’ initiatives that SourceAmerica wants to provide to them,” Perka said. “This was the first time to offer this (presentation)… It’s a way to open up lines of communication between NPAs and SourceAmerica about how to better support veterans with disabilities in the network.”
Perka said based on feedback she’s getting from affiliated nonprofits and the U.S. AbilityOne Commission, stepping up services for veterans with disabilities is not only a priority, but a point of common ground. For many of the concerns and discussion items members of the NPA community raised, SourceAmerica is developing tools and programs to meet those needs, she said.
“There’s a very strong push from the Commission and the NCSE to increase veteran participation” she said. “There’s a demand for this kind of support, and we’re working on ways to provide it.”
A recurring request: support for veterans transitioning from the military to the civilian workforce.
“That’s not an easy thing to do,” she said. “It’s a very different work culture with different styles of leadership… (Veterans) are used to working for a mission instead of an organization working toward a bottom line.”
It’s a cultural gap that needs addressing from the perspectives of both employers and employees, she said. Military processes are based on chain of command and geared toward mission success; civilian work environments tend to be more focused on relationships and profit. SourceAmerica will be working with the NCSE, the Commission and a working group of NPAs to develop key topics to discuss at upcoming NCSE meetings, starting with the Nov. 6-7 meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, she said.
“There will be discussions around transitioning veterans and specific injury types such as traumatic brain injury,” she said. “We’re going to talk about benefits education, crisis intervention, veterans spouse support, internships, job placement and more.”
For more information, email Denise Perka.