By Eric Barton
City & Shore Magazine
When Ron Bogner left northern Michigan for the Navy, he was just 17 – so his mom had to sign off on his enlistment forms.
He ended up as a damage controlman on a guided-missile frigate that chased drug smugglers in the Caribbean. If a fire broke out, if the ship was attacked, it was his job to run right for the worst of it.
He got out in 1991, and it looked like his damage control days were over. The G.I. Bill paid for college, and then he got a sweet job as a park manager in the Keys.
A couple of years ago, things just went quickly south. A divorce. A lost job. He ended up moving to Fort Lauderdale and picking up odd plumbing and electrical jobs. “There was a time when I just couldn’t quite get ahead,” recalls Bogner, 46. “The pay wasn’t enough that I could ever plan ahead.”
He did a Yellow Pages search one day for programs that help veterans and came across a United Way of Broward County program called Mission United. They helped him create a resume, trained him in the best ways to nail an interview, and worked out a simple schedule to pay bills every week.
“Coming into Mission United was difficult. It was very difficult to reach out and ask for help,” Bogner recalls.
It’s like that for most of the veterans who come in to Mission United, says Ken Juede, who oversees efforts to help homeless veterans. Since October 2013, the program has assisted 1,700 veterans reintegrate into civilian life. Some are recent Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and some are Vietnam-vets who may be asking for help for the first time.
Now, the program has backing from a Department of Labor grant called the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program. The program now has money to buy veterans the things that have kept them from a job – like bus passes, welding masks, or training to run a forklift.
The year-long $298,256 grant also helped hire new Mission United employees, and Juede says it’s their job to simply offer support. “If you look at why any of us are successful, it’s the network we have in our life,” Juede says. “Sometimes these veterans don’t have that network of friends and family to support them.”
The idea behind the program is also to simply show veterans that they can make it. Juede should know: he’s a retired Army sergeant-major who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. “Being a veteran, you know what a foxhole is like. In no uncertain terms, you know what it’s like to get shot at and get blown up. Sometimes it helps to talk to these veterans to have that background,” Juede says.
After Bogner went through the Mission United program, he landed an interview with Resolve Marine, the salvage and coastal recovery company in Fort Lauderdale. He’s now their asset coordinator, overseeing repairs and maintenance of 3,400 pieces of equipment in eight warehouses across the globe.
“It just wouldn’t have happened without the support and programs at Mission United,” Bogner says.
1300 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale, 954-462-4850, unitedwaybroward.org/missionunited