Wearing his dark blue Veterans Affairs carpenter’s uniform, Daniel Martin stands in front of a UCLA Extension classroom. His audience is made up of a dozen military veterans, ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s, some wearing baseball caps representing the branches of the military in which they served.
Some are leaning over their course materials, labeled with their names; others are sitting back in their seats, sipping coffee. All of them are focused on Martin and his story. They identify with him. Not long ago, Martin was sitting where they are now.
Martin is a graduate of the Success Academy, a collaboration between UCLA Extension and the VA of Greater Los Angeles that began in 2019. After being interrupted by the pandemic, the program is only now holding its second set of classes, and on this day in early November, Martin is back to share his story as a guest speaker for the current group of students.
The program provides communication and teamwork skills training to job-seeking veterans as part of the vocational rehabilitation program at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. This year’s five-session series will conclude Nov. 15. Beyond helping participants obtain employment, the course also presents skills for improving relationships with management, colleagues and customers, and helping maintain a positive workplace environment. The collaboration was facilitated by the UCLA Veterans Initiatives and Programs Office.
As he shares his story, Martin’s enthusiasm is contagious. He tells his audience that participating in this program is the first step to “making it.” That they are worthy of this. That if they just take the initiative and show up for class, it could change their lives. He knows, he tells them, because it happened to him.
“The purpose of this program is to help veterans be strategic in how they present the skill sets that they already have,” says Perry Reynolds, who teaches the course.
The lessons in Success Academy are based on a communication course Reynolds teaches at UCLA Extension, but they also incorporate special resources for veterans such as a resume and interview prep session conducted by UCLA human resources representatives.
“We want our participating veterans to increase their skill in the more formal communication style that is a necessity within the workplace,” says Peter Stigers Jr., section chief of the Veterans Community Employee Development Program at the VA of Greater Los Angeles. “Additionally, we want our veterans to stand out from the competition within the candidate pool by making a strong first impression with their resumes and cover letters, and during job interviews.”
Martin says Success Academy helped him learn how to effectively communicate with customers and colleagues, something that eventually landed him a job in carpentry at the VA. Friendly and outgoing, he jokingly refers to himself as the “mayor” of the VA campus. But he wasn’t always that way, he says. Prior to his experience with Success Academy, he could be standoffish and doubt the good intentions of people who tried to help him.
“I have been so grateful to UCLA Extension,” Martin says. “Meeting Perry changed my life. I now have more self-esteem and compassion and kindness than I have ever had in my life, and it stems from making sure that I came to this class and I graduated.
“The Success Academy and UCLA has been instrumental in my job at the VA. It has carried me in ways that I didn’t even recognize at the time.”
Most of the participants from the 2019 course have obtained employment, and Martin says he occasionally sees some of his former classmates on the VA campus.
The VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System’s Vocational Rehabilitation program provides a comprehensive range of rehabilitation services to veterans. Services and programs include core vocational rehabilitation assessment and case management services, work therapy, supported employment and supportive programs for the seriously mentally ill and chronically homeless.
Among the other collaborations between UCLA Extension and the VA of Greater Los Angeles is the Vets Count Scholarship, which supports veterans pursuing certificates in accounting.