When one of his Army buddies reached out to him for help, military veteran Kenneth Jones didn’t think twice. He gave up a job and home in Charlotte, North Carolina, and headed south.
“I always told my brothers I would be there for them,” he said. But, unfortunately, this time, it wasn’t enough.”
Two weeks after arriving in Orlando, Jones found himself homeless. His buddy was behind on rent, and they were evicted. With nowhere to turn, Jones found a fenced-off parking lot and set up a tent that he bought for $20 … at Goodwill.
Little did he know then how that purchase would foreshadow his future.
While homeless, Jones struggled to keep his job at a local call center. He was depending on public transportation, which often took four hours round-trip, and he had limited access to hygiene options. Soon, he was terminated.
“I went into Army mode in order to survive,” said Jones. “Eventually, I heard about Heart of Florida United Way’s 2-1-1 help line, which put me in touch with Goodwill. They saved my life.”
Ruthie Williams, a job placement specialist with Goodwill’s Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program (HVRP), met with Jones the day after he called 2-1-1. HVRP, also called Operation GoodJobs for Veterans, is part of a federal initiative to help service-members transition to sustainable housing and good civilian jobs. The program serves about 120 veterans every year.
Williams asked Jones about his interests, work history and what he wanted to do.
“With Mr. Jones’ military background, I recommended pursuing security training,” said Williams. “HVRP provides enrollment and covering the cost of certification, so it was a solid path forward for him.”
Jones completed his Florida Security D Course and earned his unarmed security certification, which was funded through a grant from the Department of Labor. He also went straight to work at the security training school.
Goodwill also helped connect Jones with affordable housing options. He has been in his apartment for a year now, and he stays in touch with Williams for ongoing support and encouragement.
Thinking back to his time spent living in a tent, Jones says that the Goodwill staff became like family to him and made all the difference in his life.
“When I bought that tent, I had no idea that Goodwill could provide me with so much more than a temporary shelter,” he said. “They gave me a second chance. Now I tell everyone who has fallen on hard times to reach out when they need assistance.”
You can help sustain these services by donating and shopping at Goodwill retail stores and Donation Xpress Centers across Central Florida. To find a location near you, visit www.goodwillcfl.org.
Karla Radka is Goodwill Industries of Central Florida’s chief operating officer, where she oversees administration, business development and marketing, management, performance, retail and operation services, training, and mission services.