“I knew that if I completed the program, I was assured of a job where I could support myself,” Lewis, 44, said. “When I first came to Piquette two years ago, I was struggling to get myself together, but I feel that I’m ready now to be independent.”
On March 1, Lewis joined 10 other veterans at the graduation ceremony from the six-week job-training program on meat processing and cutting. Many of the veterans were once homeless, like Lewis.
Lewis served three years in the Army and was a combat medic in Desert Storm. After his service, he experienced a number of life challenges, and spent almost a year in a shelter for homeless veterans in Detroit before coming to Piquette.
“Piquette stabilized my life and became my stepping stone to go forward,” said Lewis.
Because of the intensive and hands-on training that Vets to Ag provided, Lewis has already been offered a job with JBS, a meat processing company with eight plants in the United States, including one in Plainwell, Michigan.
Oliver Hargrove also graduated with Lewis from the program and is a Piquette resident. He arrived at Piquette in November last year, and now is in a position to get a good-paying, full-time job.
“Vets to Ag is a great opportunity and I would recommend it to any veteran who is overcoming hard times,” Oliver said.
Vets to Ag is an innovative program that started in 2009 through a partnership with Michigan State University (MSU) College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Veterans Services Division of the Michigan Workforce Development Agency, and others. Its purpose is to train homeless veterans to work in a variety of agricultural areas.
“Every one of these vets will have more than one job offer in Michigan,” said Tom Smith, Associate Director of Institute of Agricultural Technology at MSU. “We literally cannot fill the need for workers in this industry in the state.”
The recent cohort that included Lewis and Oliver was the third for Vets to Ag. During the program, participants are housed near the training facilities. In addition to instruction about meat processing, the cohort learned about resume writing, interviewing, leadership, and other skills.