One of the major challenges veterans face when they get home is transitioning back to civilian life, and one organization in the Capital Region is hoping to help in that process.
"Albany Can Code" is a non-profit helping train non-traditional talent in technology across the area, and now they're helping veterans get a leg up, too.
Ramon Vazquez served in the U.S. Air Force for a decade, but when he got back from serving, he felt like his job options were limited. He went back to school and got a bachelor's degree in English, but was only able to land a job working in retail.
"That was a kind of scary moment, because you get up in the morning and you're used to doing the same thing, and you've decided to change your life," said Ramon Vazquez, an alumnus of Albany Can Code.
Vazquez had learned some coding by watching YouTube videos, but it wasn't until a customer came into the store he worked at and mentioned Albany Can Code.
"And I looked it up and gave them a call and two weeks later, I was sitting in a classroom," Vazquez said.
Vazquez has taken three classes through the program and had an offer from UPPMarket, where he works now, before he even finished the last course. Now, he's teaching others.
Annmarie Lanesey, the founder and CEO of Albany Can Code, says getting veterans not only learning, but teaching is huge.
"I feel like it's just such a wonderful thing to be able to give them an opportunity like this," said Annmarie Lanesey, the Founder & CEO of Albany Can Code.
And in order to make it possible, SEFCU made a $25,000 grant available in 2019 to provide full scholarships and support funds for those who've served to take Albany Can Code classes.
"We have a significant obligation to pay back for our veterans," said Michael Castellana, the president & CEO of SEFCU. "They have created a debt that we will never ever be able to pay back. I think every day should be Veterans Day."
Now, SEFCU is offering Albany Can Code another $25,000 for 2020, and Lanesey says they're looking forward to getting more vets involved in the program.
"Over the past year, we've had about six people go through the program with the support from SEFCU grant," Lanesey said. "It was very surprising to us to learn how many barriers are in the way. Not only is tuition a barrier, but also many of these other supports like transportation, childcare, all of those things ... so it allows us to reach and support them in those ways as well and also reach more veterans in the community."
Albany Can Code says the results have been amazing so far, with veteran alumni of the program reporting an average annual salary increase of $28,734 after taking just one class.
"This program helps them one-to-one. It takes an individual veteran and changes the direction of their life," Castellana said.
And Vazquez is grateful.
"I went from being self-taught to having an actual community, so that was life-changing, I think," Vazquez said.
For more information about Albany Can Code and the tuition assistance for veterans, you can visit their website.