january 1, 2012

As Troops Return Home From Iraq, GI Go Fund Continues Fight to Help Veterans

Organization will continue to fight tirelessly to help veterans get whatever care they need

NEWARK, NJ - When Alex Pino returned home from his last deployment to Iraq in 2008, after having served his country both as a Naval 3rd Class Officer and an Army Specialist, he discovered that he had come back to a host of financial troubles.

"When I came back, I was foodless, jobless, and just about homeless," Pino said. "It was a very difficult time for me and my family."

Looking for any kind of assistance, Pino came to the GI Go Fund Veterans Transition Center, a veterans' office located right in Newark's City Hall which had just opened its doors a few weeks before he came. He was not exactly sure what they would be able to assist him with, since he had so many different problems facing him and his family. As it turned out, though, they were ready to assist him with everything.

"They provided job references, meal tickets, gifts cards, and practically a roof over my head for me and my family," said Pino, now working in the Hudson County Sherriff's Office. "They really stepped up to the plate for us."

Pino's story is just one of the thousands of veterans who have received help since Mayor Cory A. Booker and The GI Go Fund forged an historic and unique partnership that established The GI Go Veterans Transition Center three years ago. Since then, the office has successfully helped veterans and their family members from all across Newark and the entire tri-state region with comprehensive services to help them in their return back to civilian life.

“When veterans return home it is often difficult for them to adjust back into civilian life, making it hard for them to secure a job and a place to live,” said GI Go Fund Executive Director Jack Fanous.

Now, as thousands of New Jersey soldiers return home from Iraq to their loved ones this new year, the GI Go Fund is prepared to help veterans returning to New Jersey transition back to civilian life.

“As our country winds down a nearly nine-year war in Iraq, now more than ever we need to help our returning veterans,” Fanous said. “The GI Go Fund has been working with veterans for years and we understand the difficulties they face and how to help them move forward.”

Founded in 2006, The GI Go Fund connects returning veterans to long term employment, as well as higher education opportunities, homelessness assistance and prevention, and essential VA benefits. Since its creation, the Fund has held numerous job fairs and homeless outreach events to benefit veterans in the state of New Jersey.

The Fund was started by Jack Fanous, his brother, James, along with Alex Manis and his brothers, Nick and Peter, after their high school friend Lieutenant Seth Dvorin was killed by an IED in 2004 while serving in Iraq.

Working out of an office in Newark City Hall provided by Mayor Cory Booker, the GI Go Veterans Transition Center offers assistance to all veterans in need. It is a first-of-its-kind partnership between the non-profit and the City of Newark, providing help to hundreds of veterans in Newark and throughout the area since they opened their doors three years ago.

Iraq Vet Alex Pino at 2011 Veterans Day Gala (center) with GI Go Founders

“This landmark partnership has proven to be the most comprehensive and effective way to assist all of our veterans and their families with all the needs that may arise,” Jack Fanous said. “Three years ago, our organization and Mayor Booker had a vision; to show America a new approach to handling veterans and to have a program that could serve as a model that could, as Mayor Booker said, become abundantly available to veterans in cities throughout the country. Under Mayor Booker's leadership, we have learned to think outside the box, cut through the red tape, and just help veterans.”

In addition to offering employment opportunities, the GI Go Fund has assisted veterans in utilizing their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to enroll into college, giving them the chance to earn the degree that will land them the career of their dreams. Veterans are given the opportunity to learn just how beneficial earning a degree at GI Go's Job and GI Bill Fair, as well as through their quarterly magazine, The GI Go Fund Transition Times, which highlights to its veteran-readership all the advantages that come with the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

“We have strived to do whatever we can for veterans,” said GI Go Fund Deputy Director Alexander Manis. “The most important thing we can do is make sure that veterans returning home now from Iraq have the opportunity to provide for themselves and their loved ones.”

“For three years, The GI Go Veterans Transition Center has assisted thousands of veterans from across our City and region to get the benefits they are entitled to and the support and love they deserve,” Booker said. “The GI Go Veterans Transition Center manifests our love and support for the men and women who sacrificed to protect the freedom and liberty we enjoy. We are doing a lot for veterans through the Fund and we will do more and expand our programs.”

The GI Go Fund has also been a leader on ending homelessness among veterans, conducting numerous Stand Downs for Homeless Veterans with various partners throughout the state. The latest one, which was held on Saturday, October 15, turned the John F. Kennedy Recreational Center into a one-day, one-stop center for homeless veterans from across North Jersey, providing them with haircuts, medical checks, and assistance about employment services, veterans' benefits, substance abuse programs, vocational rehabilitation, recovery programs, hospice care, HIV screening, and legal services.

In addition, the organization has conducted Midnight Outreach Events in partnership with the Mayor's Council on the Homeless, going to Penn Station, Newark Liberty Airport, and deep through the woods and under bridges at 4 a.m. to reach out to homeless veterans to conduct intake as well as provide them with food, clothing, medical assistance, and opportunities to find housing.

Through their efforts, the GI Go Fund has won the respect and appreciation of veterans from Newark and across New Jersey, as they have shown that they are a complete one-stop shop for veterans and their families.

"They provide their professional care, they will work with the veteran every step of the way with whatever their needs are," Pino said. "No matter what the need that a veteran has, whether its employment, housing, going to school, or financial problems in general The GI Go Fund does a great job in helping out in any way possible. Their organization is second to none."