A veteran of the Iraq War with 19 years in the New Jersey National Guard, Connie McClendon was desperate. She returned to the U.S. in 2009 with debilitating anxiety, depression, and seizures, and could no longer serve in the Guard. She found a part-time job, but it wasn’t enough. A single mother of two, she was being evicted from her apartment. She didn’t know where to turn.
“I was the one who shouldered so much responsibility ever since my youth,” Connie said. “I couldn’t understand the possibility of having to be taken care of.”
Connie went to talk to her Veterans Administration representative at Fort Dix, NJ, for advice. He put her in touch with Skookum Contract Services, a community-based nonprofit agency that partners with SourceAmerica® and fulfills Federal contracts using the talents of people with significant disabilities in fields such as logistics, warehousing and distribution, facilities maintenance, and food services. In 2011, Connie started work at Skookum’s Fort Meade, MD, contract site as a materials expediter. Using the same skills she learned in the Guard, she was able to keep serving her country in a civilian capacity. “I basically grew up in the military,” Connie explained. “That’s what I was used to. So I like that I’m working on a military installation and still have a connection to the military. ”
Within a year she was promoted to supply technician. “Skookum helped me get my confidence back,” Connie said. “The things that have taken place in the three years I’ve been here are amazing.”
Shortly after her promotion, Connie was asked to attend the 2013 SourceAmerica Grassroots Advocacy Conference in Washington. During the conference sessions, she learned public speaking and advocacy skills, and then met with legislators to promote greater Federal support for the employment of people with disabilities. “We had workshops at the conference on how to present ourselves to legislators, and how to tell our story,” she said.
Connie soon found herself buttonholing a Congressman in a hallway. “He had voted for one thing and was on his way to vote for something else. We had to talk to him right then and there — so we did,” she explained. “To share my story on Capitol Hill? Never in a million years did I dream I would do something like that.” In addition, her presentation at the Grassroots Advocacy Conference was such a success that the SourceAmerica Speakers Bureau tapped her to be a regular speaker.
Connie has been through a lot — in one year in Iraq, she drove almost seven hundred trips “outside the wire” and survived — and says SourceAmerica has made a tremendous difference in her life. “I’ve regained my financial independence, and that’s something that SourceAmerica helped me do.”
To see Connie McClendon speak at the SourceAmerica Grassroots Event please click on video below: