By Cheryl Hall of the Dallas Morning News
Robin Akin knows firsthand that moving from the military to the civilian world is a different form of combat.
The recently retired U.S. Army brigadier general thinks she’s finally landed a job after five months of searching in North Texas. It’s been an ego-bruising process for the 53-year-old whose last assignment was deputy chief of staff for the combined military forces in Korea at a time when Kim Jong Un was rattling his nuclear sabers.
“It’s a tough transition out there, even for a one-star [general] mature woman,” says Akin, who is about to sign a contract for her first “real job” since joining the ROTC at the University of Tennessee at 19. “I can’t imagine how a young E5 [sergeant] or staff sergeant makes this transition on her own.”
That’s why Akin is supporting Attitudes & Attire.
The Dallas nonprofit is offering workshops to help female veterans gain the self-esteem, confidence and interview skills needed to catch the attention of civilian employers.
“I wanted to get tied to an organization that focuses on reintegrating women vets back into civilian society, helps them get jobs or helps them fill in all the right boxes if they want to get into college,” Akin says.
Lyn Berman founded Attitudes & Attire in 1996 with $500 of her own money and a deep desire to help disadvantaged women become self-sufficient. Since then, the nonprofit has helped 17,000 women through workshops at its offices in the World Trade Center.
“I was delighted when I met Lyn, found out what she and her organization did with very few people,” Akin says. “It’s really amazing.”
The clients at Attitudes & Attire get internal and external makeovers.
The women are referred by churches, nonprofit groups and federal and state agencies. The nonprofit teaches them ways to boost their self-image, talks to them about setting goals and helps them learn how to act on the job and how to battle the internal demons holding them back. They also leave with a head-to-toe work-appropriate outfit put together by a personal shopper at the onsite boutique.
Just for them
Last year, Attitudes & Attire began identifying the veterans at its traditional workshops and found that 39 had attended in 2012.
So this year, Berman decided to offer bimonthly workshops tailored to former military women. Representatives from the Texas Veterans Commission present the sessions on interview techniques. Akin plans to be a speaker at the workshop on Oct. 29 if her new job doesn’t interfere.
The final Attitudes & Attire veteran workshop of the year is slated for Dec. 11.
In its first three workshops, Attitudes & Attire has served 59 veterans, from career officers to two-year enlisted vets who have left the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
Another 25 are signed up for the workshop on Tuesday.
About 1 in 4 of these women are homeless, “which is tragic after what they’ve done for us,” Berman says. “We want more veterans to know we can help. We also want people to get excited about what we’re doing and donate financially.”
Statistics about homeless female veterans are hard to nail down. But one that Akin uses rings true with several agencies that I contacted for verification.
“Twenty-two percent of women vets of current wars since 9/11 live on the streets,” Akin says. “We’re finding through the Veterans Administration and the Texas Workforce Commission that that’s a solid statistic when it comes to Texas and cities like Dallas and Houston, where there are large populations of women veterans.”
Akin is also the Texas coordinator for the Count Me In Women & Capital One Veteran Entrepreneur Corps. She’s busily working on the next mentoring program designed to encourage former military small-business owners. It’s scheduled for Nov. 18 and 19 at the Capital One Conference Center in Plano.
“After leaving the military, I wanted to focus my passion on women veterans,” Akin says. “There’s no voice for us out there, especially in Texas. It’s definitely a man’s state.”
Veteran clients are finding their way to Attitudes & Attire through referrals from the Veterans Administration, Homeless Women Veterans Program, N Power at the Bill J. Priest Center and Salvation Army.
“We work with a ton of agencies,” Berman says. “That’s why people are so excited about our program. We’re actually finding and bringing in the women.”
Mary Pollinzi Brown, program director for Attitudes & Attire, says the workshops are gaining in popularity because it’s like group therapy.
“They get to be with other women veterans in an interactive workshop where they can share their experiences,” Brown says. “They become a support system for each other. The camaraderie is incredible.
“Our referring agencies are telling us great things like: ‘No one else is doing for women veterans like you are doing.’ It’s really reaffirming.”