Memorial Day is an opportunity here in the U.S. to remember those who died in service to their country. We owe a great debt to those who served in the military and guaranteed our freedom.
It’s also an opportunity to remember those veterans who are still with us and in many cases need our help.
The numbers are staggering:
- There are over 199,000 unemployed veterans with more on the way.
- There are 50,000 homeless veterans on any given night.
- Every day 22 veterans commit suicide.
One way we can help as part of the WordPress community is by supporting the nonprofit Happy Joe. Founded by James Dalman, Happy Joe mentors and trains military veterans in how to launch successful careers or businesses in the web technology industry. Their objective is to reduce veteran unemployment, financial hardships and suicides by giving veterans a new mission and opportunity in the incredible world of web design.
James Dalman worked with iThemes and helped us launch what is now iThemes Training (formerly WebDesign.com). He also had a successful career as a freelance designer, working with big names including Nike, BMW, NASCAR and more. He built a six-figure income as a freelancer and walked away to start Happy Joe. James is also a veteran himself.
James served in the Oklahoma National Guard and the Army Reserves for eight years as an infantryman, though he was never deployed overseas. He did almost get court martialed when he painted camouflage on his face to look like Gene Simmons of KISS. But that’s another story.
The action James did see was all in training, including hand grenade shrapnel landing in his lap (didn’t break the skin, but he still screamed like he was wounded) and a large helicopter assault on a field of cows in Minco, Okla.
“It was like that scene from Apocalypse Now where the choppers were flying in above the river and jungle,” James says. “We land and I’m all gung-ho and jump out like John Wayne. But my foot catches on something and I go face first in the cow field. At least I survived.”
He has some great stories, and although his service never required actual combat, it wasn’t a joke.
“I learned I could do things I never thought I was capable of,” James says. “I was pushed to the extreme limits. I found out I had more intestinal fortitude than I thought possible. I discovered the importance of working as a team and looking after your buddies.”
“Unfortunately, I also learned that poison ivy doesn’t make good camouflage,” James adds. OK, he’s still full of jokes, but he’s serious about helping veterans.
“I wouldn’t be here without the men of the 101st Airborne and the men of Easy Company,” James says. “They actually landed in my grandfather’s town in the Netherlands during World War II and liberated my family from the Nazis.”
James has always appreciated veterans, but in recent years he’s noticed how hard things are getting for them. The numbers above are the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands of veterans not getting the benefits they deserve, veterans who are denied jobs because of misconceptions about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and even spouses who weren’t able to get a proper military burial for loved ones.
“Our veterans risk their lives for our country, but our country wasn’t doing anything back for them,” James says. “So I felt a calling deep inside. I knew from my experience with iThemes and WebDesign.com that I could teach veterans how to enter the web technology field and make a great living.”
Thus Happy Joe was born.
One of the challenges veterans face is the transition back to the civilian world. For all the extensive military training they’ve received, there’s usually little help to acclimate soldiers back to everyday life.
“You learn a whole different lifestyle,” James says. “It’s hard to relate to civilians. You’re learning acronyms, weapons, being taught things most people never do.”
The transition from a daily life of being told what to do, when to do it and how to do it, to the complete freedom of choice that comes with civilian life can be extremely challenging.
There are also very real struggles with PTSD, physical injuries, financial issues or other challenges. A combination of factors makes it very hard for veterans.
“One thing I want to communicate is that not all veterans are seeking a handout or are damaged goods,” says James. “Most want to contribute in a positive way after their service. They want to continue the mission, they want to give back, and they want to be successful in a career with a company or launching their own business.”
Unfortunately, we’re not doing enough to help veterans. The government is weighed down by bureaucracy and self-interested politicians. They only take interest after public pressure, and then it’s often a short-lived spotlight.
“The public doesn’t know how to help veterans,” James says. “While all veterans appreciate when someone says thank you, they need more than a thank you.”
Which is where Happy Joe steps in. They specialize in mentoring and coaching veterans to get them up to speed and to start making money.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, Happy Joe partners with the best tech training organizations, including iThemes, CodeSchool, Iron Yard and Treehouse to ensure veterans have the proper skills.
“We can’t keep up with these great companies who already created amazing training,” James says. “But we can lead veterans to those companies, get them the skills and training, and then guide them to a career path or launching their own business.”
One-on-one mentoring is also a key part of the process.
“Training only goes so far,” James says. “Most people need a coach, a sherpa to get them up the mountain.”
“It’s actually a lot like what iThemes is doing with WProsper—how to find the perfect client, how to charge what you’re worth, dealing with client issues, etc.,” James says.
How Can We Help
“We’ve had a lot of veterans apply and get accepted into the program, but the resources and funding have kept us from making a huge impact on a larger scale,” James says.
Donations and corporate sponsorships are a big way to help out. James is also looking for skilled people who can serve as mentors. You can simply reach out to Happy Joe and ask how you can get involved.
“I’ll answer every email personally,” James says.
If you’re not interested in web technology or WordPress, James is still eager to connect. He’d be happy to point you to other organizations helping veterans.
“We’re building slowly, and that’s OK,” James says. “We want to be a long-term solution. That’s what makes us different. It’s great that Lowe’s and Starbucks want to hire veterans for $10 an hour, but that doesn’t help their long-term future. We want veterans to have a viable business or career. We’re looking down the road, not just right now.”
Let’s Do This
Let’s make we sure we do more than remember this Memorial Day. It’s easy for this to become simply a day off and not do anything. It’s also easy to simply get choked up watching videos of military moms and dads surprising their families and not do anything.
“There are so many more ways to help than just giving a pat on the back,” James says.
So let’s do something. Join us in supporting veterans with Happy Joe.