PLEASANT VALLEY — When Air Force veteran Paul Smith lost his job four years ago, like many people, he wasn’t thrilled at having to launch a new job search.
When he began looking, he spotted a job opening at WVU Medicine but wasn’t quite sure how to get his foot in the door. He submitted his resume and application, and then reached out to Brett Simpson, CEO of Operation Welcome Home, whom he had never met before. The organization provides employment resources for veterans.
Smith, who lives in Morgantown, said he and Simpson “immediately hit it off.”
Simpson told Smith that he had a point of contact at WVU Medicine in the human resources department, so Simpson made a call on behalf of Smith, a 20-year military veteran who served three tours in Iraq.
Within a day or so, a human resources representative called Smith in for an interview.
“And after that, it was kind of on me,” Smith said. “But they helped get my foot in the door.”
He went through more interviewing, and then got the job as a contract agent where he negotiates support services and purchased services contracts.
“It’s been four years now, I’ve had the job for four years,” he said.
Smith said he loves the Morgantown-based Operation Welcome Home for what’s it done for him and his family. The nonprofit also found some volunteer work for his son when he was in high school.
On Tuesday, Smith shared his story with members of the community and members of the East Fairmont High Class of 1969 at the Copperhouse Grill.
Class members presented Simpson with a check for $13,500, money the class raised Aug. 9 with its fundraiser dance “Hold Back the Night” held at Fairmont State University.
Simpson said the donation from the Class of 1969 will be used for “putting veterans back to full-time employment” and “providing them with the resources they may not otherwise know about” through such events as an annual resource fair and job fairs.
He said one of the organization’s biggest expense is the cost of renting the a venue.
“We do have a physical facility, but it’s not big enough to facilitate bringing a whole large group of veterans, so we look for grants and donations and things along those lines,” he said. “This is going to have a tremendous impact on our ability to get venues and provide top-notch support to our veterans.”
Simpson said Operation Welcome Home has put 485 veterans back to full-time employment and provided general help to thousands of veterans since its inception on May 22, 2012.
“So, the numbers that we’ve been able to do, we’re pretty proud of,” he said.
He said Operation Welcome Home “couldn’t be more ecstatic and appreciative” of the donation from the Class of 1969.
Butch Getz, of Fairmont, one of three of the class members who served in the Vietnam War and took part in the fundraiser, was glad to help Operation Welcome Home. The other two class members who served in Vietnam and helped out with the fundraiser were Ray Neer and Randy Sheets.
Getz, who served in Vietnam from 1969-70 in the U.S. Army in the First Infantry Division in Quang Tri Province, was on the class committee when a decision was being made on which nonprofit organization to help with a donation.
“But the name ‘Operation Welcome Home’ struck a chord with me for obvious reasons,” he said. “The Vietnam veterans had no welcome home and it was just that era where there was so much turmoil and anti-war (opposition). Whether that war was just or unjust, it shouldn’t have affected people that sacrificed their lives, but nevertheless, it did. That’s what made me get on board, and I really thought it would be some therapy.”
Getz said the footage of veterans being welcomed home today that is seen on television and the internet is “a constant reminder” to him of the opposite experience that he and the Vietnam veterans went through when they came home from the war.
“I thought maybe this is what I need, therapy, helping other vets,” he said.