South Bend aims to attract vets through new pilot program

Brian Pawlowski, deputy chief of staff for the mayor, talks about the Vets’ Community Connections program inside the mayor’s office at the County-City Building in South Bend.Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
Brian Pawlowski, deputy chief of staff for the mayor, talks about the Vets’ Community Connections program inside the mayor’s office at the County-City Building in South Bend.Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN

SOUTH BEND — Adjusting to life after deployment abroad isn’t easy for military service men and women. A new pilot program just getting underway in South Bend, Phoenix and San Diego aims to make it a little easier.

The program is called Vets’ Community Connections and it aims to connect service men and women, along with their families, to volunteers in the community who can provide help with anything and everything they could need adjusting to post-deployment life.

“For some folks, it’s real simple. I was really lucky, I had a support network — family, friends and it’s not like anything really changed,” said Brian Pawlowski, deputy chief of staff in South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s office. “Other folks aren’t that fortunate. Some folks come back, no family, no job, no real skills that they developed in the civilian world before. I attended college before I went off to the military to I had a degree to kind of peddle on my way out. Not everyone has that either.”

There are a multitude of websites that help provide veterans with assistance on their benefits and other resources. Vets’ Community Connections isn’t intended to be another one of those, Pawlowski said. Instead, it seeks to provide a personal connection to the returning veterans.

“The nice thing about it is it’s not an endless website, it’s not a phone number that you call and you press one through 50 for the various services you want,” said Pawlowski, a veteran himself who served four years on active duty with the Marines and remains in the Marine Corps Reserves. “It’s much more personal than that.”

Help can range from getting legal, medical or financial services to the best Realtors to help find a house or tracking down someone for guitar lessons for a child, Pawlowski said. After the calls come in to the city’s 311 service they will be directed to volunteers in the community who have offered to take calls in various areas of expertise. Anyone interested in volunteering can fill out the form at http://ci.south-bend.in.us/vets-community-connections-form.

“All they are signing up to do is receive a phone call down the road from a veteran who may call the city asking for some help in one of these areas,” Pawlowski said. “311 is going to be kind of the hub that receives the calls.”

Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a member of the U.S. Navy Reserve who spent six months in 2014 in Afghanistan, said he hopes the city’s participation in the pilot program helps build the city’s reputation as a veteran-friendly community so that service men and women, even those with no connection to the area, will consider moving to town.

“I think too often we fall into the mode of only treating veterans as a need that has to be addressed. I view veterans as something we should be competing over,” Buttigieg said. “You have all these folks who are highly trained, they’re skilled, a lot of them are sort of at the mid-point of a career … you have leadership experience, usually technical experience and South Bend wants them. We want population in general, we especially want skilled population who are likely to contribute to the labor force.”

This article was originally published here.