JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A unique graduation held Friday in downtown Jacksonville marked the completion of a program that gives more than just education to local veterans.
Dressed in caps and gowns, more than a dozen students, more than half of whom are wounded veterans, graduated from the youth employment program called Generation. The nonprofit organization offers classes based on technical skills and development for sustainable careers.
For the first time, Generation partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project to include disabled veterans, such as 38-year-old Lawrence Chandler, who was severely injured in combat while serving overseas in Iraq. He's still recovering after several back surgeries and hasn't been able to work since 2004.
"I was kind of lost," said Chandler, Army combat veteran and Generation graduate. "I didn't know where I wanted to go with my future. It seemed real bleak."
Chandler recently started walking again without a cane but felt he was behind when it came to the civilian workforce experience.
"None of my skills were translatable to anything that I was qualified to do in the civilian world, so it was like starting brand new," he said.
The Wounded Warrior Project helped him enroll in Generation. After six weeks of classes and a boot camp-style curriculum related to retail management, Chandler hopes to find a leadership retail position and support his wife and four kids.
"I've gained so much confidence in this program and within myself," Chandler said. "I feel like a brand new person. No longer do I focus on the broken pieces left behind from the military."
The Generation program is free for its students and comes with job placement support. Chandler said he's already been to several interviews and had callbacks.