Karen Courageously Marches On

When Karen was 22, she joined the Air Force. She loved the camaraderie and the structure it gave her life. But once out of the military, Karen’s life took a turn…one she didn’t expect.

For years, she traveled across the country from post to post until she settled into a teaching position and obtained her bachelor’s degree. Karen loved the military, but she had decided it was time to get out on her own.

“There were jobs everywhere,” she said. “The first job I stumbled into while I was standing in an unemployment line, and I saw a sign to become an adult literacy instructor. I couldn’t imagine being an adult who could not read. Reading was so very important to me. I immediately signed up and, during that time, went on to get my master’s.”

Karen felt she was at the top of her game. She had left the military far behind her and took a high-powered job in the city. Her confidence level grew so high, she left her job and established her own business. But physically, Karen was undergoing some severe changes in her chemical makeup.

“I had a baby at 42, followed by a series of medical problems, which were compounded with menopause—all within a two-year period,” Karen said. “I was literally going out of my mind, spiraling out of control on drugs and alcohol. I was in and out of detox and still working until I just couldn’t do it anymore.”

Realizing she could access some supports from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Karen attended some outpatient programs; but it wasn’t quite what she was looking for; she really wanted to be a part of some all-women veterans groups.“There were programs, but it was just too many men for me,” she said.

One day while walking through a VA hospital, Karen stopped at a table and picked up some literature about Volunteers of America’s veterans job training program. She really didn’t think she needed job training, but thought it might give her the discipline she needed back in her life. When Karen walked through those Volunteers of America doors, she couldn’t believe what she heard.

“I never felt such appreciation for just being a veteran, no strings attached!” said Karen, “It was like ‘Karen, we love you!’ At this time, my house was in foreclosure, I didn’t have a job, my car was on the fritz, my phone had been turned off, I didn’t know where I was going to live, I was worried about my baby, and I really just didn’t know what I was going to do. Thank God Volunteers of America did.”

Volunteers of America  of Illinois has helped Karen enroll in some veterans support groups specifically for women, access food stamps, a phone, clothes, food vouchers, find shelter and more.

“Volunteers of America just made it all happen, but more importantly, for the first time in 20 years I felt that camaraderie like I was back in the military, and I was happy. It’s a great place, and I love it. And I keep coming back because they’re like my family.”

Karen has graduated from the Veterans Job Readiness Workshop Class and is currently entertaining job offers from some prominent local businesses.