CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. — Two months ago, U.S. Army veteran Terry Treleven didn't have a home for over a year after going through a difficult divorce.
He recently found himself doing mock interviews to prepare for getting back into the workforce at the Chippewa Falls Veterans Housing and Recovery Program, where he has been staying for a month.
"I worked at other jobs, but I couldn't stick with it," Treleven said. "It's just so hard when you don't have a place at night to lay your head. I no longer consider myself homeless because I'm here, and now it's time to work."
Thanks to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson's The Joseph Project, Treleven and five other veterans at the Chippewa Falls facility are getting that chance. The project is a faith-based initiative to connect people with jobs throughout the state, said Scott Bolstad, Wisconsin outreach director for Johnson's office. It is a weeklong class that teaches time and financial management, goal setting, spiritual fitness, conflict resolution and other topics. The class always ends by taking the participants to interview for companies, in this case Sourcecut Industries in Osseo.
This was the 51st Joseph Project Class and the first held in the Chippewa Valley area — the closest having been Wausau. After the six veterans recently showed up, Bolstad confirmed the project saw another first.
"All six stayed the whole time, and this is the first time we've had that happen," Bolstad said, adding the groups range in size, but typically one or two drop out within the first couple of days.
The veterans participated in mock interviews with community volunteers to prepare them for their interviews today at Sourcecut Industries. They aren't guaranteed a job, but whether or not they are hired, it could open future doors.
Damion Gaston, a U.S. Army veteran who has been at the Chippewa Falls veterans facility for about two years, said he applied for the project because he figured he could use a "foot in the door." He's held temporary jobs but said he is looking for something more permanent.
He said all of the information he has learned has been useful and cited particularly the financial class taught by a Royal Credit Union representative.
"Some were things I had been taught in the Army, but it was a nice refresher, especially the finance class," Gaston said. "Not many classes I've had went into such detail about those things, such as better ways to build credit."
Though this program was specifically for veterans because they partnered with the Chippewa Falls facility, Bolstad said anyone who is having trouble finding a job can apply to be part of The Joseph Project classes, which are held throughout the state a couple of times a month, mostly in Milwaukee. Because it is led by members of Johnson's office and local community volunteers, The Joseph Project doesn't operate on federal or state funding.
Bolstad has been working to find a local partner to bring The Joseph Project to Eau Claire but said so far he hasn't had any luck.
Michael Hanke, director of the Chippewa Falls Veterans Housing and Recovery Program, told the Leader-Telegram that if given the opportunity, he would definitely hold the program again.
For veterans like Gaston, knowing there are people such as the staff at the Chippewa Falls facility and members of Johnson's office conducting the program has been a humbling experience.
"I was in a homeless shelter for a while, and they don't have that many resources there," Gaston said. "This program humbled me by how well we have it — like the donations. My entire outfit today was all donated. It shows how many people in the community care about veterans, and that's touching."
Treleven said he was also humbled by the experience and doesn't take it for granted how it came to be.
"As a veteran, I think every day, 'I'm getting this opportunity because of what I did 20 years ago,'" Treleven said. "It's nice to know that it still matters."
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Leader-Telegram.