Reno nonprofit on mission to remove barriers facing homeless, job-seeking veterans
RENO, Nev. — A slice of cheese.
There was a time in 1995 when that’s all Shane Whitecloud had in his fridge. After a tour to Kuwait and one WESTPAC tour, the U.S. Navy veteran was struggling to find direction in his life, struggling to find a job, struggling to survive.
“I can honestly remember a time in my life when there was a slice of cheese in the fridge and that was it,” Whitecloud told the NNBV. “And I had a dog, so I split it with the dog. That’s all I had.”
If not for the compassion and kindness of a friend, who bought him groceries and offered him a place to stay, Whitecloud isn’t sure if he’d be here today.
“I was going through a really rough time,” Whitecloud recalled. “I was very close to being homeless had a friend not offered up their couch for me to crash on. The only difference between me and (a veteran) who’s become homeless is just some random act of luck.”
Nearly 25 years later, Whitecloud has been on a mission to help change that. For the past decade, he’s has been working with homeless veterans in Northern Nevada as a corporate outreach specialist for the Veterans Resource Centers of America.
Over the last couple years, due to the rising cost of living, Whitecloud said he’s seeing a lot of “repeat homelessness” amongst veterans.
“Because no longer will disability pensions pay for rent and food and utilities,” Whitecloud said. “In most cases they won’t even pay for any of it. So it just kind of came down to, what can I do to help them afford to live independently and not have to rely on the system to do it.”
With that, the U.S. Navy veteran is in the process of launching “Operation: EMPLOY,” a nonprofit career development center and job-recruiting agency for military personnel and first responders — current and former — who are going through the transition to civilian employment.
The program will also serve as a support system to help veterans and first responders avoid the pitfalls that can derail their lives.
“Whenever you first get out of the military, you don’t have the experience necessary to fulfill a lot of those job opportunities,” said Whitecloud, the nonprofit’s president and CEO. “For me, getting out of the military, the only job I could find was security — I literally stood around from 11 at night until 8 in the morning with nightstick and a pair of handcuffs and walked around a parking lot of a used car dealership, even in the freezing cold. Or I worked in a nightclub. I didn’t have a whole lot of opportunities thrown my way.”
Barbara Kopp, board vice president of Operation: EMPLOY, said the career development center will offer workshops on resume writing, networking, interviewing and more.
“We’ve got some wonderful organizations here, they help veterans get work, but there’s all these barriers set up, it’s not an open door,” Kopp said. “So we’re saying, the door is open.”
Along with being a career development center, the organization has plans to eliminate two of the biggest barriers preventing veterans from obtaining or maintaining employment, Whitecloud and Kopp said: childcare and transportation.
If Operation: EMPLOY obtains the proper funding, Whitecloud said within a year they plan to open a daycare center and a transportation line of two to four vans. The organization’s office space — which isn’t yet open to the public — is located at 634 Ryland Street in Reno.
“So we would have a daycare facility, transportation facility and career development center and recruiting agency all under one roof,” he said. “That way, literally, the client can show up, drop their kids off, get a ride to work, come back, pick their kids up and go home.”
In terms of funding, Whitecloud said the nonprofit is in need of roughly $250,000 for the first year. He said the Nevada Grant Office is assisting them in writing and applying for federal grants, which would provide the bulk of their funding.
To help generate donations, the nonprofit is hosting its first fundraiser — Call to Duty-Operation: EMPLOY — on Nov. 2 from 6-8 p.m. at Rounds Bakery, located at 294 East Moana Lane #10 in Reno.
The event will include a silent auction and raffle prizes. Dinner will be catered by Sparks Smoke and BBQ Take-Out will and Reno singer-songwriter Athena McIntrye will provide live entertainment.
“This is a ‘hey, this is who we are, this is what we’re about, and this is how you can help’ event,” Whitecloud said. “If we get the funding right, we’re hoping to have the doors open by the first of January.
“We want to kick the new year off with a bang.”
This weekend camp event is for girls ages 10 to 14 from low-income communities in Northern Nevada and will focus on energy, sustainability, science and technology, engineering and math, as well as leadership development, communication, collaboration and problem solving.