By Geoff Harjo, GRID Alternatives Team Leader
In the six months of my fellowship with The Mission Continues and GRID Alternatives, I worked as a Volunteer Team Leader, helping to foster career development for over 200 volunteers, while providing well over 40 low- income families with solar-electric systems for their homes.
In the first month, I was still having trouble reintegrating into civilian society as a O.I.F./ O.E.F. combat veteran with service connected disabilities. Alan, my host supervisor and everyone at GRID Alternatives Greater Los Angeles were completely welcoming and accommodating, providing an excellent training environment that helped make volunteering fun and rewarding.
When I first came home from the US Army after my last deployment to Afghanistan, I immediately went back to college and supported my family working security at Boeing in El Segundo. As I studied Alternative Energy Production and Oceanography at Santa Monica College (SMC), and watched satellite technicians’ work on solar wings for aerospace at Boeing, I began seeking out opportunities to learn about and work in the solar industry. Professor Stuart Cooley at SMC recommended that I volunteer at GRID Alternatives and sign up for his Photovoltaics program. At the same time, I heard about another non-profit, The Mission Continues and their Post 911 Veterans Fellowships. It took nearly six months and two applications to the program, but I was finally awarded this untapped, amazing opportunity to work as a Veteran Volunteer Team Leader in the solar industry, benefiting homeowners in underserved communities in Greater Los Angeles.
I was completely new to the solar industry with only a few weeks of schooling in photovoltaics, when GRID Alternatives staff took me under their wings and taught me everything they could about solar electric installations, warehouse management, site surveys, site design, trouble-shooting, permitting, inspections, volunteer management and community outreach. Now I feel fully prepared to enter the solar workforce while continuing to volunteer in my community.
I also learned that motivating others is essential to workforce development and we cannot be successful in our efforts without a commitment to excellence. Putting together a Service Project requires motivating volunteers and homeowners by being personable, knowledgeable, and positively directing team members toward a goal oriented focus.
This experience with GRID has changed my personal perception about the role veterans can play in community service. After going through the Mission Continues Fellowship I realize that we veterans have always been the guidon bearers of our communities. We have always caused wavelengths of change returning to our homeland through the hard-won wisdom of our experience traveling the world, defying the enemy, and winning the hearts and minds of the oppressed. I feel motivated to return that positive energy back to our beloved States where we have always influenced the neighborhoods, the small towns, the big cities, and reminded this nation of our fallen comrades who so earnestly laid down their lives to defend freedom.
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