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Boots2Roots is the only organization in Maine specifically focused on preparing active duty military members, up to a year before they begin their transition out of the service, for immediate success in Maine, while providing a pipeline of new workforce talent to Maine employers. Shaw’s has supported Boots2Roots through the GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS Reusable Bag Program.

Tell us about Boots2Roots.

Boots2Roots was founded as a nonprofit in 2016. Our mission is to assist active duty military members in transitioning to meaningful life and work here in Maine. We also help their spouses and any veterans who may be outside of the state but want to relocate to Maine. While transitions are generally hard, we exist because transitions are especially hard for veterans who need to change careers and really start over again in life.

Traditional transition programs and support networks exist in military communities around the country. Think of places like Southern California, D.C. and Virginia, North Carolina and Texas, with significant military communities. But here in Maine, there are no large military bases, so while there is a large per capita population of veterans in Maine, there aren’t those same military communities. The traditional pathways for active duty military to transition to employment after military service don’t exist here in Maine as they do in other places around the country.

So, that’s why Boots2Roots was created; we’re trying to fill that gap and help make local connections for people who want to make Maine home but need to be connected to the communities and to the employers here to make that happen.

The traditional pathways for active duty military to transition to employment after military service don’t exist here in Maine as they do in other places around the country.

Our founder, Dave Hickey, is originally from the China Lakes region of Maine; he retired from the Air Force and moved back here with his family. He had a master’s degree with all kinds of executive experience, and he thought it would be easy for him to find work. Unfortunately, he found that was not the case; he struggled to get through HR screenings, to get a job interview, have somebody to call him back or even respond to his job application. He was really discouraged by that and felt that maybe Maine was not a place where he could be successful or call home, even though he wanted to raise his family here. If you don’t have a job, you can’t qualify for a mortgage and buy a house.

Here’s someone who was very successful in his military career, returning to the state where he was from and didn’t feel like he belonged here or that there was a pathway to success. So, he started to think there must be other people that are experiencing these things as well. What if you’re not from Maine but are interested in coming to Maine? How in the world do you make it work? So, he just started very informally enlisting his friends to help.

Then, in 2016, a board was formed, and the nonprofit was formally established to be more impactful and purposeful. The next step was to create a formal program to prove why the services are necessary and that we can impact successful outcomes for veterans leaving service.

We’re also impacting our state’s workforce challenges. In Maine, more people leave the workforce than enter it every year. Every business that we talk to needs to hire someone. And there are stories in the news, repeatedly and more so every summer, where restaurants and other businesses that cater to the tourism industry can’t open or stay open for their entire work week because they can’t find enough employees.

So not only are we helping the veteran community, but we’re also impacting Maine’s workforce shortage. That’s increasingly becoming our focus area and why it’s important to attract more veterans to the state, let them know about all the great opportunities in Maine and make Maine a more welcoming place for them.

What services do you provide to the community?

Our program consists of two parts. The first is helping veterans translate their military skills into experiences that hiring managers will understand and find relatable. We do that through interview coaching and resumé coaching, that is, removing military jargon and language so a resumé is more relatable to a civilian employer.

Every one of our coaches lives and works in Maine. They’re connected to folks in Maine who need and want to hire veterans.

Nationally there are a number of organizations that provide this type of service, but none are on the ground here in Maine. Every one of our coaches lives and works in Maine. They’re connected to folks in Maine who need and want to hire veterans. That networking is the second part of our program and our competitive advantage because we’re local to Maine. We have a peer network and mentor program. Veterans who have already transitioned and been successful in the state will pair with you to answer your questions and help you find the community that’s the right fit. Our peer mentors can answer questions people have when they’re moving, such as what the school system is like, what the commute is really like and what is the sense of community.

The Pearson Family now resides in Maine.

What sets your organization apart from other nonprofits in your community?

It’s our purpose and our mission. Our mission is to get you hired within 60 days of your arrival in the state, and we have a 94% success rate. If you come through our program, you’ll find a job.

We’re filling a need not only for veterans but also for the state’s workforce. And we’re producing results. Boots2Roots has a successful program. It’s a needed program. That’s why 2022 was our fifth straight year of growth, and we’re on track for another year of growth in 2023.

We’re helping more veterans, who we call our teammates, get hired in Maine. The key to a successful transition is to start working with us 12 to 18 months before you arrive. We want to start working with you before you get here because it takes eight to 12 weeks under the best of circumstances to find work if you have to go through two or three interviews and a background check.

If you’re trying to transition to a new career and you’re trying to move your family and establish a home, there are just so many things going on, from employment to schools for your kids to medical issues or having VA benefits properly administered. That early connection is the key that we’ve identified that leads to our teammates’ success. In today’s job environment, if you start working with us 12 to 18 months before transitioning out of the military, you will have a job before you show up here. That takes away the most significant burden and a lot of the anxiety that someone has. They know they have somebody in Maine that’s going to go to bat for them and get them the connections they need.

Tell us a story that illustrates your organization’s good work.

Randy and Georgette Bell were stationed in Japan when they first contacted us. Neither of them was from Maine, but they wanted to come here to be closer to family in the Northeast. They were half a world away in Japan with two kids and knew nothing about the state.

The Bell Family now calls Maine home.

Georgette had recently graduated from dental hygienist school. We connected her with Catholic Charities, and she had a job before she arrived in Maine. We connected them with a realtor and got them in touch with the local school systems. We were able to find work for Randy as well. This story is typical of what we can do.

They started working with us early in the process. Even though they were in Japan, we could work with them and make them feel like they were going to be successful.

Maine gained a whole family, and they’re committed to being here for the long term. They’ve already bought their house, their kids are in school, both parents are working and the kids are now getting ready to enter the workforce. That’s the Boots2Roots story.

We don’t charge anything for our services. We’re not a recruiting firm, and we’re not transactional in any way. We don’t charge the service member, and we don’t charge a business that hires one of our teammates. The best interest of the service member is no longer the top priority if we’re incentivized to get paid for placing a teammate. That’s not the business we want to be in.

What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?

Number one is our 94% success rate and getting folks hired. But number two would be that we have a 92% success rate at 12-month retention in your first post-military job. More than nine out of 10 will stay in their first post-military job for 12 months or more.

The wider we can make that pathway to success here in Maine, the more people will have a successful transition and the more businesses will successfully hire our teammates.

Why is that important? It means it’s been a good fit for the teammate or the spouse. They’re happy with what they’re doing, but it’s also a good fit for the business. And if it’s a good fit for the business, they’re more likely to come back and hire another veteran the next time they have an opening. That helps establish the pathway. Because every person who leaves the military knows a hundred more people who are in the military, and everybody coming out of the military needs to find work. Two hundred thousand people transition out of the military every year. The wider we can make that pathway to success here in Maine, the more people will have a successful transition and the more businesses will successfully hire our teammates. That means it will be easier to follow the path to Maine and the process will sustain itself. Hopefully, that will be our long-lasting contribution to veteran health after service and Maine and Maine’s workforce.

What do you want people to know about Boots2Roots?

For the teammates, contact us early. I know I’ve said this, but that’s the key to success. Don’t wait. If you are interested in coming to Maine, reach out to us early, even if it’s two years until you leave the military. There is a pathway to success for you here.

For employers who might see this, please get in touch with us and help us connect veterans to your opportunities. Part of what we do is to share opportunities in Maine with the veterans and active duty military members who are looking to transition so that they understand all the different types of jobs available and the career pathways to success that exist in Maine.

How will you use the funds received from the Shaw’s GIVE BACK WHERE IT COUNTS Reusable Bag Program?

The funds go right back into the program. They’re used to expand our transition coaching capacity, which includes resumé and interview coaching for teammates to help them translate those skills into experiences that civilian hiring managers will understand.

The funds also help spread the word about Boots2Roots, to let veterans know we exist. If you’re not in Maine but interested in coming here, you have to see and hear about Boots2Roots. And the only way to do that is to be in transition offices in every military base and every military community around the country. Funds will also be used to help educate veterans about the great opportunities here in Maine.

Is there anything you would like to add?

The big message is that there’s opportunity in Maine! There’s a whole team and a veteran infrastructure community ready to welcome more veterans to the state of Maine and businesses here are really interested in hiring veterans.

Bill Benson is Executive Director of Boots2Roots. He joined the organization in 2019 after a successful stint as the owner/operator of a small manufacturing business in Maine. Prior to owning his business and before moving to Maine in 2014, Bill spent 24 years on active duty with the United States Army. 

Published June 15, 2023.