Local Couple Initiates New Program to Assist Whidbey Vets in Getting Jobs

In collaboration with the Whidbey Community Foundation and Opportunity Council, Oak Harbor residents, George and Sheila Saul, recently opened a new fund to kickstart a pilot program providing support to Whidbey Veterans in obtaining full-time jobs. The Opportunity Council Island County Center will be administering the program.

Since retiring to Whidbey Island in 2010, Sheila and George have focused their local community service volunteer hours and their philanthropy dollars on childhood education and assisting military veterans.

Locally, Sheila volunteers weekly at Coupeville Elementary School and assists with reading and George volunteers weekly as a caseworker at Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society on base.

In both avocations they encounter the impacts of the cost of housing and food insecurity, and they believe the best way for households to confront these challenges is with a full-time job to contribute to household self-sufficiency.

The Sauls believe, “Just as learning-to-read is so critical to a child’s development and success, securing a full-time job is so critical toward attaining self-sufficiency on a personal or household basis.”

George and Sheila have decided that they want to do more to help our unemployed veterans get full-time jobs. While the unemployment rate has improved recently, they still see opportunities to improve it further – particularly among our local veterans.

Toward that end they’ve initiated a “Whidbey Veterans Jobs-Assistance Program”, in active collaboration with the island-wide nexus of philanthropy—the Whidbey Community Foundation (WCF)—which holds the funds for the program, and the Opportunity Council (OC) which administers the program.  It is starting out as a 1-year pilot program and as it demonstrates impact, then upon the Sauls’ death it will be endowed for perpetual implementation.

The Sauls established the program in memory of their fathers, both WW2 Army veterans who fought in Europe. Sheila’s dad, Ed Moy, was in the Signal Corps and George’s father, Frank Saul, was in Field Artillery and OSS.

Saul points out that helping unemployed vets on Whidbey Island is so important: “At 13%, Island County has a much higher proportion of veterans than any other county in WA, which averages 8.9%. And the 4.5% unemployment rate for vets in Island County is higher than the 3.9% for the County’s overall population.”

The Whidbey Veterans Job-Assistance Program will focus on helping vets with late-stage expenses that directly stand in the way of them getting a specific job. Examples might include childcare for final interviews, pre-job training, certification, licensing, transportation, or clothes or tools – any last-minute expense barriers to getting the job and starting work.

To be eligible for the program, the veteran must reside on Whidbey Island, be honorably discharged, not have a military ID card (i.e. no retirement pay and limited access to base services), must be in the later phases of pursuing a specific full-time job, and in need of funding assistance to secure that job. The one-year pilot phase will fine-tune and determine how to modify the program.

Applicants submit a simple online application with the Opportunity Council indicating what the request is for and how it will help directly lead to a specific full-time job and briefly explain why the financial assistance is needed.  Qualifying applicants then meet with OC and are prioritized using a rubric. Grants are awarded monthly and paid directly to the vendor. The online application can be accessed here: https://www.oppco.org/services-for-veterans/island-county/whidbey-island-veterans-job-assistance-fund/

Community members are encouraged to donate to the program through the island-wide Whidbey Community Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit, at PO Box 1135, Coupeville, WA 98239.  EIN 81-3860867.

About Whidbey Community Foundation

Whidbey Community Foundation was founded in 2016 by long-time community members. Our mission is to improve the quality of life on Whidbey by: providing support for the nonprofit sector, assisting donors to build and preserve enduring assets for charitable purposes, and meeting community needs through financial awards. Visit WCF’s website www.whidbeyfoundation.org and follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more information.

About Opportunity Council

The Opportunity Council (OC) is a private, non-profit Community Action Agency. With Community Resource Centers available in Bellingham, Maple Falls, and Oak Harbor OC serve communities in Whatcom, Island and San Juan Counties. For nearly 60 years, OC has worked throughout Northwest Washington to build just, equitable communities through service, investment, and collaboration.

OC’s mission is to help people improve their lives through education, support, and direct assistance while advocating for just and equitable communities. Part of a national network of Community Action Agencies, OC is dedicated to helping people help each other and themselves—building a community where everyone has the chance to thrive and contribute. Visit OC’s website www.oppco.org.