On April 20, 2017, over 300 people attended the Workshops for Warriors Inaugural Gala that was held on the USS Midway Carrier Museum in San Diego, California. Former California Assembly member Nathan Fletcher, now a professor of Practice in Political Science at the University of California, San Diego, was the master of ceremonies.
Founder and CEO of Workshops for Warriors, Hernán Luis y Prado, gave the welcoming remarks and showed the latest short video featuring testimonials by students on how WFW gives them a sense of potential again.
He said, "This evening's celebration is in honor of the 388 Workshops for Warriors' veterans, wounded warriors, and transitioning service members who have earned over 1,500 national recognized certifications. Our graduates work in advanced manufacturing centers throughout the U.S.A. and contribute $27 million to America's economy every year. This number continues to grow. We are proud of their successes and contributions to our community, the manufacturing industry, and our nation as a whole."
He briefly described how he and his wife, Rachel, had self-financed the training they began providing in their own garage in 2008 while Hernán was still in the service. He said that he was heartsick at seeing too many veterans unable to transition successfully into civilian life and even commit suicide. When he ran into one of his buddies from his service in Iraq confined to a wheel chair after losing both his legs from an IED, he and his wife decided to invest all of their assets to expand into their first small building in early 2011. He had previously told me that they got their first outside funding from Goodrich Aerostructures, so that they were able to move into a building twice the size in October 2011.
Hernán said, "Many of you understand our Double Funnel dilemma…a waiting list of over 500 students but over 2,500 jobs available nationwide for each one of our graduates…The challenge? There is only funding for 50 students every semester. Now is the time to take action to expand Workshops for Warriors with our $21 million capital campaign. This expansion would allow us to train ten times as many veterans and provide them with opportunities to serve America in a new role as they provide for their families and take part in the American dream."
He extended his heartfelt thanks to Reliance Steel& Aluminum Co. and the Harriet E. Pfleger Foundation for being the Red, White and Blue sponsors for the evening. He said, "These contributors have been our "Champions," whose dedication and continued support have made a meaningful and profound impact in helping Workshops for Warriors grow while changing the lives of veterans. For example, Reliance Steel provided funding to add 18 welding stations and add a new computer-aided design laboratory that allows an additional 18 CAD/CAM students every semester to receive our life changing training and certifications [and] add several stations for CAD/CAM software training."
He concluded, "I am extremely grateful to those of you who have chosen to take action. I am humbled by your commitment to our nation's veterans and America's manufacturing industry. In 150 years, people will look back on Workshops for Warriors as the birthplace of American's advanced manufacturing renaissance. Thank you for supporting Workshops for Warriors."
MC Fletcher then introduced Jim Hoffman, executive vice president and COO of Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co. He relayed the comments of President and CEO Gregg Mullins, who was unable to attend the event. He said, "Reliance Steel is a proud supporter of Workshops for Warriors, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing fee training in welding, fabrication, CAD/CAM programming, and advanced machining to Veterans, Wounded Warriors and Active Duty personnel. Their mission is to equip the students with marketable skills and nationally recognized credentials so they can secure careers in manufacturing and achieve success in their civilian lives."
He continued, "Workshops for Warriors is funded through private donations from individuals and companies like Reliance, and 83% of every dollar donated goes directly to the training programs. Over the years, Reliance has supported Workshops for Warriors by funding equipment purchases, forging partnerships with our industry peers, making donations, and hiring Workshops for Warriors graduate. We have held events among our employees to not only raise funds but increase awareness about the important work being done by Workshops for Warriors to serve a population that has so faithfully served our country. As they transition into the manufacturing sector careers, Workshops alumni continue to serve by contributing to our country's economy."
He concluded, "Workshops for Warriors' Capital Campaign is underway, with a goal of raising $21 million to build a new facility that can accommodate ten times as many students as are currently enrolled. As the Capital Campaign Committee Chairman, President Gregg Mullins is personally calling on you for support. A great opportunity is here for us to give back to those who have gone above and beyond to protect us. Let's do our part to help our men and women in uniform succeed and thrive."
Next, Darnisha Hunter, active duty and veterans family advocate from the Office of San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, read a proclamation in which April 20, 2017 was declared Workshops for Warriors' Day in the City of San Diego.
This was followed by a short speech by alumnus Scott Leoncini, who had been a Marine. He said, "When I got out I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I met my amazing wife Michelle... [who] told me that I should go to school. Determined not to lose her, I did just that." He worked in gun shops while going to college and finished college with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
He said, "I went on a ride along one night with a local police department and decided that I needed to become a police officer.... I applied to almost all the agencies near my home, but only to end up with a stack of denial letters...I hit a huge wall, I was depressed, looking for any better paying job as I was making $10/hr as a security officer."
Then, he heard that a Marine friend of his was killed in a helicopter crash in Florida after just coming back from receiving the Silver Star for his actions in Afghanistan. Scott said, "It took me 6 years of struggle and Andy dying to realize that I needed to change my path, I needed to identify with something else..."
A few days later, he reconnected with some Marine friends, and one of them, Josh Garcia, "was enrolled at Workshops for Warriors at the time, and he told me about how Workshops helped him get into a welding career. Josh told me that they had a machining program too. The only thing I knew about machining is that it was the process used to make guns. I decided that’s what I would do because honestly, I didn’t know what else to do, this was my last effort. Not sure how I would end up, I took a leap of faith."
Scott went to school in the day and worked nights at a local gun store as he had to work to support his family. He said, "We had a small class of about 10 students, a few of us were vets, and the rest were active duty. I loved working with vets and active duty Marines again… All the guys in class had somehow found their way to Workshops… we all were struggling with transition but had the same goal…create a new identity…"
He graduated in spring 2015 with eight certifications in Mill, Lathe, Solidworks, and MasterCam and was offered a job as a Workshops for Warriors teaching assistant and be a part of the train-the-trainer program.
Scott said, "I found that I loved teaching and helping students get through the program...I love to come up with new ways of teaching material, and motivating students to push through when it gets hard. I am grateful for the train-the-trainer program, and opportunity to help students. I am thankful to Hernan and Rachel for helping me discover my passion. To further my abilities, and to ensure that Workshops continues to be the greatest advanced manufacturing school in America, I recently enrolled at Point Loma Nazarene University School of Education where I am earning a Master’s in Education Teaching and Learning which will allow me to grow even more within Workshops for Warriors. The train-the-trainer program has given me a new path and allowed me to connect with the veteran community. I am helping other veterans not go through what I did when I got out of the military."
Afterward, Special Guest Speaker Donald "Doc" Ballard, Medal of Honor recipient, gave his remarks. After a brief description of how he earned the Medal of Honor during the Korean War, I took note of the fact that he said, "Too many times, we preach to the choir of those who have served in the military and already have an appreciation for what veterans have done to serve their country. We are missing the mark; only 1% has served our country...The military is a family-owned business that we hand down from generation to generation. Not everyone can serve in the military, but we do have an obligation to this country to thank veterans for the freedom they fought for...We thank a teacher for our ability to read, but we can thank a veteran that we can read and write in English. We can thank veterans by supporting Workshops for Warriors so they can expand to other states. Everyone can serve the military by taking care of the people who are doing the job they can do or won't do for whatever reason..."
During dinner, I asked the man sitting next to me why he supported WFW. Doug Davis, general manager at Kearny Mesa Ford & KIA, said, "Workshops For Warriors is simply an amazing program that is helping veterans make a living for the rest of their lives. All of us know when we have a skill in the work place, our individual self-esteem improves greatly, and we can go home to our families with a sense of accomplishment. Workshops teaches the manufacturing trade to our veterans, and when they graduate with a welding or machinist certification, a job is waiting for them 100% of the time! That's exactly what Workshops for Warriors does for our veterans. I am lucky enough to support Workshops for Warriors through three channels: personally, my dealership, Kearny Pearson Ford & KIA, and finally through the Ford Motor Co. as Chairman of the San Diego Ford Dealers Ad Association Board in selecting recipients of charitable donations."
Whether or not you have served in a branch of the military, you can help change the life of veterans and Wounded Warriors by supporting their training in manufacturing skills by donating to the Workshops for Warriors Capital Campaign.