Veterans learn job skills renovating Des Plaines American Legion post

  • Marine Brian James Reese of Mount Prospect does prep work for the renovation of American Legion Post 36's building on Oakwood Avenue in Des Plaines as part of his involvement with the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce & Industry's 11-week Back to Work Boot Camp program.

    Marine Brian James Reese of Mount Prospect does prep work for the renovation of American Legion Post 36's building on Oakwood Avenue in Des Plaines as part of his involvement with the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce & Industry's 11-week Back to Work Boot Camp program. Courtesy of Andrea Biwer

  • Marine Brittany Brown of Prospect Heights, left, and her husband Kevin Brown, sand the walls of American Legion Post 36 in Des Plaines Saturday in preparation for its repainting the same day as part of her involvement in the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce's 11-week Back to Work Boot Camp program.

      Marine Brittany Brown of Prospect Heights, left, and her husband Kevin Brown, sand the walls of American Legion Post 36 in Des Plaines Saturday in preparation for its repainting the same day as part of her involvement in the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce's 11-week Back to Work Boot Camp program. Eric Peterson | Staff Photographer

  • Marine Joseph Lutsch of Algonquin, left, along with Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce & Industry Executive Director Andrea Biwer sand the walls of American Legion Post 36 in Des Plaines Saturday in preparation for its repainting later the same day. Lutsch is a member of the chamber's 11-week Back to Work Boot Camp program for veterans returning to civilian employment.

      Marine Joseph Lutsch of Algonquin, left, along with Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce & Industry Executive Director Andrea Biwer sand the walls of American Legion Post 36 in Des Plaines Saturday in preparation for its repainting later the same day. Lutsch is a member of the chamber's 11-week Back to Work Boot Camp program for veterans returning to civilian employment. Eric Peterson | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 9/29/2018 1:48 PM

Twenty veterans in the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce's Back to Work Boot Camp program spent Friday and Saturday renovating the city's American Legion building with support and guidance from Rivers Casino staff.

The program helps former military personnel acquire job skills for the civilian world.

 

Ryan Flurkey, a Des Plaines native who graduated from the program last year, said he knows just how meaningful the 11-week program will be to this year's members.

"It was really helpful, especially with job searches and how to properly conduct an interview," he said. "I was a lot more confident."

Flurkey, who now works for Search Inc. helping find employment for people with special needs, said the camaraderie of the Boot Camp program was something he enjoyed as much as the new skills he acquired. The members of last year's class remain in contact.

Marne Deithorn, director of human resources at Rivers Casino, transitioned out of the Marine Corps 20 years ago and knows from that experience how much help such support can be.

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"When you transition out, you feel that something is missing, but you may not know what it is," she said.

What it is for many is the sense of purpose they knew in the military. For a lot, but not all, becoming a first-responder is a way to regain that purpose.

Helping with the Des Plaines Chamber program is just one of the ways Rivers Casino engages with the local community, Deithorn said. Others include promoting autism, Alzheimer's and breast cancer awareness, as well as volunteering at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church soup kitchen.

Des Plaines Chamber Executive Director Andrea Biwer said the members of the Boot Camp come from many communities throughout the region, with one even traveling all the way from New York for the unique program. Word is spread through the Veterans Administration, Harper and Oakton community colleges, and by past graduates.

Thomas Strossner, a Vietnam veterans and commander of American Legion Post 36, said he knows what such a program would have meant to him upon his leaving the military.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It gives them confidence," he said. "A lot of times when you come out of the service, you don't have any direction about what you want to do in civilian life. This will give them that direction."

And the post's aging building at 1291 Oakwood Ave. can certainly use the veterans' help, he added.

Though Post 36 will mark its centennial in 2020 -- just a year after the American Legion overall -- the current building has been in use since the early '60s and may have been a dairy before that, Strossner said.

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