After six years in the U.S. Air Force, Shawn Campbell knew that in civilian life he wanted to work with his hands. Doing what, exactly, he wasn’t sure. But he knew it would be in Maine, because his wife’s employer was transferring her to The Pine Tree State. That’s where Boots2Roots helped Campbell on the path to HVAC training and eventual employment with Estes Oil & Propane in York.
The Maine non-profit organization focuses on connecting with active duty military members who are planning to transition to Maine before they leave military service—matching up exactly with Campbell’s situation.
“We connect with people while they are still in the service and help them do self-assessments, write cover letters and resumes, help them with networking and interview preparation,” Jen Fullmer, executive director of Boots2Roots, says in a phone interview with Fuel Oil News. “We want to establish relationships with employers,” Fullmer adds, and to that end it joins groups such as the Maine Energy Marketers Association.
“It takes a lot of time and effort to translate military experience so that employers can understand” the capabilities and potential of military members, Fullmer says. “Soft skills” such as problem-solving and leadership are developed by virtually everyone at virtually every level of the military, Fullmer says, while specific skills applicable to specific jobs might be less apparent or lacking. “So, if there is training or education they can get while they are still in the service,” Boots2Roots works to identify it and encourage military members to pursue it, she says.
Campbell says his Air Force occupations included fueling airplanes and managing fuel inventory. Last October, on a combination anniversary-and-scouting trip from Florida, where he was then based, to Maine with his wife, Campbell picked up a brochure about Boots2Roots. With help from Fullmer he worked out a plan to use his benefits under the G.I. Bill of Rights to pay for a three-month HVAC course at the Maine Technical Education Center in Brunswick, Me. “It was a really good school,” Campbell says. He completed the course in May and that same month he started work at Estes Oil & Propane.
Mike Estes, owner of the company, says it has a long history of hiring people with military backgrounds. Of Boots2Roots, Fullmer and Campbell, Estes says, “They reached out to us and we were hiring and we were glad to take him on. He’s a great addition.” This summer Campbell was working as a helper on air conditioning, heating oil and propane installations, and this fall he is working with oil technicians, Estes says.
Fullmer, who retired as a colonel from the U.S. Air Force in 2015 after 24 years of service that included 90 B-1 combat missions to Afghanistan and Iraq, says, “Boots2Roots’ mission is to bridge the gap from serving our country to strengthening Maine communities. We do this by providing personalized and proactive support for active duty military members and their families who are transitioning to Maine. Our three programs focus on employment, navigating transition services, and community reintegration, built on a foundation of networking connections based on trust.”
Upon its inception, Boots2Roots reviewed reports from federal and state agencies, networking with veterans’ support organizations and employment agencies, and talking to previously transitioned veterans. “Our research revealed that the largest existing gaps in services for transitioning military members are efficient job search assistance and networking,” Fullmer says. “Addressing these gaps is critical because finding timely employment is key to economic, psychological and social well-being, and community integration. As such, it’s important for veterans to start planning and executing their transitions early so they can hit the ground running when they get to Maine. And that’s why Boots2Roots connects with transitioning military members while they’re still on active duty.”
The board of directors is deliberately composed of community members without military service and community members who are veterans. “Maintaining a Board with at least 50% civilians is important because we are a community integration organization,” the group states on its website.
Dave “Lowell” Hickey, president and founder, was born and raised in Maine. He has served multiple combat tours in Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, and is still serving, says his biography on the organization’s website. He completed his undergraduate work at Norwich University and his graduate work at Air University.
The office of Boots2Roots is at 428 Fore Street, 3rd floor, Portland, ME 04101. The phone number is 207-329-5077, and the website is www.boots2roots.org.