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  • Kino Veterans’ Workforce Center stands ready to serve vets throughout the year

    Nov 10, 2022 | Read More News
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     vet center outside
    A tile flag outside the Kino Veterans' Workforce Center honors the various branches
    of the military.
    Veterans Day offers the perfect opportunity to remind former service members that Pima County’s Kino Veterans’ Workforce Center stands ready to serve them with everything from job searches to disability claims.

    The Kino Veterans’ Workforce Center, at 2801 E. Ajo Way, is marking its 10th year of existence. It was founded in 2012 as a place to help veterans re-enter the workforce after separating from the military, but it has grown into much more.

    Today the center can assist veterans with issues ranging from job searches and skills training to counseling and supplying the tools one might need to start a new career. It also offers outreach activities with area employers; provides peer support; hosts a twice-weekly networking club to share job leads; and can even help veterans with their benefits, such as the GI Bill and disability claims.

    “We are here to help veterans along the entire spectrum of where they are in life,” said David Balderrama, a Marine who has served as coordinator of the Veterans Center for nine years. “We can assist someone who is ready to start their next career and just needs to make the right connections or someone who is looking for a meal or just place to sleep tonight.”

     vet center entrance
    The veterans center is marking its 10th year of existence in 2022.
    If there's a service that the Veterans Center cannot provide, it can call on a dozen or so partner agencies that might be able to lend a hand. The center works with the federal Veterans Affairs Administration, the Arizona Department of Veterans' Services, Project Action for Veterans, the Pima County One-Stop, the Disabled Veteran Outreach Program, La Frontera, the Primavera Foundation and several other organizations.

    One thing Balderrama and others at the Veterans Center stress is that, unlike some organizations, they know how to talk with veterans because they are veterans themselves. It’s not unusual for conversations at the center to be sprinkled — or maybe soaked — with colorful language.

    “With us veterans, the F-bomb doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a word that makes veterans feel more relaxed with one another,” Balderrama said. “It’s kind of our way of saying to the other person, ‘Get your act together.’

    “When we talk like that to another veteran, sometimes they’ll say to us, ‘You know what? I needed that.’ It’s our way of communicating and it brings down boundaries.”

    Hector Acosta, an employer relations specialist at the center, said, “Sometimes veterans are reluctant to come to us because they are afraid that they aren’t going to get help. But once they come and realize that we are all veterans, they feel much more comfortable.

    “Sometimes they just want to come in, hang around and use the computers. That’s fine with us.”

    Balderrama said Pima County has a veteran population of about 80,000. Before the pandemic, the center was assisting about 400 veterans a month. The pandemic cut that traffic to about 200 veteran a month, but it’s slowly increasing once again.

    Most veterans come in for help seeking employment, Balderrama said. Next on the list is veterans who want job training or to enroll in certification programs. One program many veterans seek out is a commercial driver’s license, or CDL, training because it typically only takes about two months to complete and veterans can quickly find a job and get on the road.

    One person who benefited from the center’s guidance is Rafael Rojas, who is a veteran outreach coordinator for Pima Community College.

    Rojas, 30, said he went to the center after six years in the Air Force.

    “I first contacted the Kino Veterans’ Workforce Center around May 2021. I was hoping to find some assistance to re-enter the workforce. It was a bit of a challenge to find stable employment since the work I did in the military didn’t translate to what I wanted to do next,” Rojas said.

    Balderrama put Rojas in touch with Michael Arinello, one of the center’s vocational development specialists. It was Arinello who helped Rojas polish his interviewing skills.

    “Michael has the interviewing process down to a science and makes sure to prepare you the right way,” Rojas said. “I highly recommend that any veterans looking for help with interviews make an appointment with Michael so he can help you walk into your interviews with confidence.

    “I can confidently say that I would not be in my current position without the care and assistance of the Kino Veterans’ Workforce Center.”

    Rojas is one of the center’s many success stories. But it’s not only the new jobs or careers that the staff is proud of. Success for the center can take many forms — such as making sure veterans have a roof over their heads or a meal in their belly. 

    The center was one of the first — if not the first — facility of its kind in the United States, Balderrama said. Since 2012, several jurisdictions in other states have created veteran centers of their own.

    “The Pima County Board of Supervisors had a vision back in 2012 that veterans needed a place like this — a place where veterans can come in, relax, talk to someone, look for employment and have someone assist them with all those needs,” Balderrama said.

    “We want to make sure we’re doing our part to fulfill that vision of 10 years ago.”