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Pittsburgh 1 of 50 American cities chosen for veterans job program

Bob Bauder
| Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, 6:43 p.m.

When Lynn Strezeski left the Army in 2009, employment agencies steered her toward assembly line jobs.

Strezeski, 35, of Natrona Heights said she appreciated the help, but she was over-qualified. She has bachelor's and master's degrees and served as an intelligence analyst in the Army. She said the agencies stereotyped her: “People think that anyone coming out of the Army is young, male and undereducated,” she said. “That's not who we are.”

Mayor Bill Peduto on Saturday outlined a city effort to help veterans find quality jobs and services that match their qualifications. Homefront Pittsburgh will work in collaboration with similar local initiatives to help veterans and their families find resources in Western Pennsylvania.

Last fall, local charities began a major effort to help veterans navigate the numerous agencies that help them and their families.The result will be a formal network of organizations sharing a central web-based case management system.

Peduto said the city will work closely with the coalition.

“Let's say that you want to go back to school,” Peduto said. “We'll work with Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education to take advantage of the GI Bill that's there to be able to do it. It's all these things that are out there presently that aren't pulled together into a package to make it very easy for a veteran to find what it is they need.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs chose Pittsburgh as one of 50 American cities for its Veterans Economic Communities Initiative designed to connect veterans and their families to local and national employers. Rosye Cloud, a senior adviser in the Veterans Benefits Administration, who appeared with Peduto, said the department chose Pittsburgh because of its high concentration of veterans and job growth potential. More than 210,000 veterans live in 10 counties surrounding Pittsburgh, including more than 91,000 in Allegheny County.

“The concentration of veterans in Pittsburgh is extremely high, which provides a wonderful opportunity to help to connect them to benefits,” she said.

The VA is providing a staff person who will work out of the mayor's office with Betty Cruz, the city's manager of special initiatives, to coordinate city efforts.

Cruz said the city would convene a veterans' advisory board to find the best ways to help. She said Google will provide a training hub at its East Liberty headquarters where veterans can learn how to market skills they learned in the military.

I think what the mayor's trying to do now is a great idea,” Strezeski said. “That's amazing if they can pull it off.”

Peduto appeared in Hazelwood where 34 volunteers from Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh, a local nonprofit, and the local chapter of The Mission Continues, a national veterans service organization, were remodeling an older veteran's home.

Jim Mamajek, 78, who served six years in the Army, said he was overwhelmed by the support.

The nonprofit groups do the work for free. Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh has been repairing the homes of low-income Pittsburgh residents for years and will have completed 105 homes in Hazelwood by year's end, according to Hillary Bundy, a senior manager.

Mamajek is getting new windows, a remodeled bathroom and painting throughout.

“I'm very proud of the young veterans volunteering here to help me out,” he said.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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