HOWELL – Transitions in life can be difficult. When one moves from high school to college, from college to the workforce, or from singlehood to marriage, a period of apprehension and adjustment is normal. But when someone moves from the military to the private sector, the difficulties can be monumental. Often, the transition from carrying a rifle to carrying a briefcase or lunch bucket can be a daunting and difficult ordeal.
Helping veterans navigate this chasm of uncertainty is the goal of an organization known as Bridging the Gap For Veterans, whose mission is to help American servicemen and women find jobs in the modern economy. Launched in February 2016 by former Air Force veteran and Howell native Mike Ferraro, Bridging the Gap For Veterans operates out of its offices in Wall, but aims to help military men and women from coast to coast to the other.
“Since I retired, I felt I had to give back in a way that I could help military communities open a door and find jobs,” Ferraro says of why he started the foundation. Seeing a need, Ferraro looked for ways to bring veterans leaving the service to vacancies that employers had readily available. During their military service, military men and women will learn useful and valuable skills, but will not experience the practical application of these tools when they are ready to enter the private sector.
“A lot of times they don’t know because they don’t know what’s out there,” says Ferraro. “They don’t know how they transfer their skills, so we do a kind of pairing.”
The Ferraro team will often give the veteran a self-assessment test to help them focus on careers that may interest them. While many candidates may have a general idea, Bridging the Gap seeks to best identify areas of opportunity.
If veterans are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, the foundation seeks help for these people so that they can integrate not only into the job market, but also into society. Owning a pet has been scientifically shown to reduce stress levels and to that end, the Bridging the Gap Pet Adoption Program partners with the Monmouth County SPCA, paying 50% of adoption costs for qualified veterans.
The Ferraro team then works to identify each candidate’s skills and motivations to determine their strengths and the jobs best suited for the veteran. “We ask these kinds of questions that get [the veteran] streamlined,” says Ferraro. “Then we come up with a career action plan, which is basically connecting them with companies that would match who they want to be, and then doing mock interviews with them so they’re ready. from. Our main mission is to get jobs for veterans, and that’s what I’m really proud of.
Many veterans don’t have resumes and don’t even know how to build one, but Ferraro’s organization can help them too. Veterans often have valuable skills they learned during their service to our country, but don’t know how to articulate those talents in written form in a resume or cover letter.
“We actually prefer to write the resume for them for free,” says Ferraro, “because often they write it and they don’t know what a good resume looks like. We have a lot of experience in this area, and we also know it from a military point of view. Really, translating their military experience into quantitative and qualitative statements so they can shine, show what they did in the military and how that translates into a civilian world.
In addition to help with resumes, cover letters and practice interviews, Ferraro’s team will put veterans at job fairs to put them in front of potential employers. Borrowing the idea of ”speed dating” events, veterans who attend career fairs meet with potential employers, seven minutes at a time, in hopes of making a favorable first impression that can lead to a job interview. follow-up or possible employment.
“They get to meet these companies using speed interviews, so I’ve been doing speed interviews for about six years now,” says Ferraro. “We would usually do it on military bases, but now we do it off base as well. We receive 25 to 30 companies at a time [as] part of that quick maintenance process. According to Ferraro, Bridging the Gap has helped place more than 700 veterans into the workforce.
Many companies donate to Bridging the Gap, and in return they will participate in job fairs and can use Ferraro’s foundation as a direct feed system that allows these companies to select the best candidates before competitors cannot seize them. .
Because they operate as a 501(c)(3) charity, Bridging the Gap For Veterans is eligible for county, state, and federal grants that help fund their important work. But they also have another unique fundraiser that not only provides operating revenue for the nonprofit, but also helped them find their marketing manager.
Under a program called The Coffee Platoon, the Ferraro-based company sells blends of dark, mild, and decaffeinated coffee in whole or ground bean bags, as well as K-cups in 12- or 24-count boxes. . The coffee is roasted locally in The Brick and Hoboken, and appears in Foodtown and ShopRite supermarkets, and is also available on the company’s website (bridgingthegap.vet).
“I’ve known Mike for a long time and I’ve done stand-up [comedy] work for military installation dinners,” says Howell resident Joseph A. Grisanzio, the company’s chief marketing officer. Grisanzio, who performs stand-up under the stage name Joseph Anthony, has only been with the foundation for a few weeks.
“Fast forward, I stumbled across coffee and loved the coffee,” Grisanzio says of his unusual journey to his current role. As he explains, during the pandemic, when the performing arts were on hold, Grisanzio got back into freelance writing and editing.
“Mike ran a campaign called the Hometown Hero program,” says Grisanzio. “I collected some [presentations] for him, [and] he had me in mind for a position. Since August 1, I have been its new marketing director.
Locally, the foundation offers a twice-yearly “Back The Blue” scholarship to an outstanding veteran enrolled as a law enforcement officer candidate attending the Monmouth County Police Academy.
Starting Sept. 15, Ferraro’s outfit will launch another program called “Operation Suit Up,” which provides veterans with work clothes candidates can use for interviews and keep afterwards.
“I’ve seen over my time that a lot of men and women who have interviewed don’t know how to dress properly for a first interview,” says Ferraro. “I always [said] I have to figure out how to solve this problem.
American servicemen are accustomed to following orders, strategizing and leading others in order to achieve an objective. Now, with the help of Bridging the Gap For Veterans, they can achieve that overriding goal of getting jobs that help them transition smoothly from the battlefield to the service field or from the front lines to the front office. .