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Chamber aids vets entering the workforce with mentors

Looking to retain as many veterans as possible in the local workforce, the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut has launched a mentoring program aimed at helping former members of the military transition from college to the private sector.

The Military Affairs Council of the local chamber, made up largely of veterans and people with family ties to veterans, came up with the initiative, which initially identified six students at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point who were interested in a transition program. The chamber just recently tied in with the UConn campus in Storrs, which is expected to supply an even larger pool of mentoring candidates.

"All of us have an obligation to help our veterans out to the degree we can," Tony Sheridan, president and chief executive of the local chamber, said in a statement. "They performed an extraordinarily difficult mission on behalf of our country. Now is the time to show our gratitude for their service."

Michael Ennis, disabled veterans outreach program specialist for the state Department of Labor, said the chamber's initiative "really caught my eye." He wasn't aware of another program like it in the state.

"For someone to put this in motion is just a great thing," Ennis said. "It's a tough transition for pretty much everyone, especially the younger vets."

Ennis added that hiring a veteran currently comes with a very attractive state incentive of up to $12,000 through Connecticut's Subsidized Training and Employment Program. The Step Up program helps employers retrain veterans while companies get reimbursed as much as 100 percent and as little as 25 percent of worker salaries for the first six months.

Ashlee Donovan, Military Affairs Council liaison for the chamber, said the idea is to pair students in their later years of college with members of the business community working in fields similar to ones that veterans are interested in finding employment. The chamber will be facilitating the pairings and will offer veterans free entry into Business After Hour networking events where they can be introduced to potential employers and make other valuable connections.

Donovan said the chamber hopes to start out small, with no more than 20 or so mentors, and then possibly extend the program to other colleges in the region.

"We are tring to target students who are near graduation," Donovan said in a phone interview. "We want them to stay here, raise families, start a business."

Donovan said she has been impressed with the number of chamber members who have volunteered to help with the program only one day after it was first announced. To get involved, email adonovan@chamberect.com. Veterans looking to connect with the free program should email Martha Young at martha.young@uconn.edu or Kris Perry at kristopher.perry@uconn.edu.

"The idea is to help them find a position and not feel like they graduate and that's it," Donovan said.

l.howard@theday.com

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