When you sit down across the table from Whole Vet founder and Director Dale Robbins, you immediately sense the passion in his mission to help transitioning veterans find a stable path into civilian life.
“This is a comprehensive vision to really create a platform that can serve our military and veteran community,” Robbins said. “Everything from helping them make connections at our events to get jobs and internships, to the mentorship piece that gives them someone that really cares.”
While many of the mentors Robbins has recruited are themselves veterans, he believes it’s just as important to have mentors who have no prior military experience. Something he thinks brings an entirely different perspective to the veterans Whole Vet serves.
“Not all my mentors are veterans,” he said. “I actually don’t think we need them all to be veterans. We need to have perspectives from people in that community.”
The focus of the program doesn’t stop with just the veteran, it extends into the family as well. Robbins says he hopes to eventually, as funding will allow, bring new pieces into the program which include efforts targeted at youth and at making sure marriages are strong and vibrant.
“For the whole vet, for the whole person, for the whole family, we get into the marriage and the youth piece, where we can impact them in their home,” he said. “It is meant to impact the whole person to the degree that we can.”
Robbins admits the Whole Vet organization isn’t trying to be the end-all resource for veterans who are in transition into the civilian world. He says his agency is just a tool and a guidepost, paving the way to a better future for all who seek their assistance.
“We’re not arrogant enough to think we’ve got all the answers,” he said. “We’re just a piece to a big puzzle.”
The organization uses connections with business partners to provide veterans a place to explore opportunities, network and become empowered to pull themselves upward, according to Robbins.
Using what Robbins defines as career transition events or conferences, veterans are exposed to multiple facets of what the civilian work world is all about. Attendees are given insight to what an industry expects from perspective employees. It also offers guidance on where to go for other forms of assistance, like educational opportunities.
“The first thing they need to do is come with expectations, that’s what I preach all the time,” Robbins said. “They need to come with an expectation that they’re going to hear something to enrich their life.”
Robbins doesn’t guarantee a job to every veteran who attends, but does make sure the companies that take part in the events are those which hire veterans. Robbins wants to make sure the veteran who walks in the door, has a chance to hear firsthand what he needs to do to accomplish his dreams, of any sort.
“When they come through the door they need to expect they’re going to hear something of value to them,” Robbins said. “They’re going to gain something that is going to in-value their life.”
Robbins also encourages the veterans who attend, to not only look to better themselves, but the world.
“They’re going to be challenged to give back, it’s not all about taking,” Robbins said. “They are encouraged to look around and see who needs a hand up, look around and see who needs help.”
The organization, which was born from Robbins’ participation in a Veteran’s Affinity Group through his job with Cisco Systems, began with a 2010 event. Thirty soldiers from the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Bragg came to the event, bringing a program through which Cisco employees could mentor transitioning veterans. The program has served approximately 450 service members who were leaving the military.
With a string of successful efforts which included the first event at N.C. State University and multiple other venues, Robbins created Whole Vet in 2016. He registered it as a nonprofit in February 2017 and gained 501(c)(3) status in April. He stresses the organization was born in North Carolina, but is focused on helping veterans nationwide.
He also says despite seeing all kinds of positive stories, there’s still a lot to learn as Whole Vet continues to grow.
“There is nothing I can tell you today that I’ve ever had any experience with in the past,” Robbins said. “It has been a learning experience for the last nine years.”