Alyssa Spillane was eager to settle in her home state after she and her husband, Sean, were discharged from the U.S. Army. But not so eager that she was willing to move from Georgia to Maine, without a job, in the middle of a pandemic.

“I’m not going to up and move to Maine without a job, hoping I can find something there when the job market is as low is it was,” Spillane, 26, said.

But she was already working with Boots2Roots to update her resume and prepare for interviews. The nonprofit works with people who are transitioning out of active duty and want to find jobs in Maine. That connection helped Spillane secure her position at Otis Elevator Co., and the young couple was able to relocate to Maine only a couple months later than they hoped. Now, they are staying with her parents in Augusta while they shop for a house.

The Spillanes were among the service members and veterans looking for work in the uncertain job market created by the pandemic. People who help veterans get hired in Maine said their work has been disrupted by COVID-19, but they are still connecting candidates with employers.

Veterans Sean and Alyssa Spillane relocated to Maine with the help of the nonprofit Boots2Roots, which works with veterans who are transitioning out of active duty and want to find jobs in the state. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Federal data shows that the unemployment rate for veterans has generally followed the same trajectory as the rate for the rest of the population this year. However, when the national rate peaked at 14.7 percent in April, the unemployment rate for veterans was 11.8 percent, suggesting that their job losses were significant but not as common as the rest of the population.

Representatives from the Maine Department of Labor said they could not provide an unemployment rate specific to veterans in Maine. But they estimated that it tracks with the rate for the rest of the state, which was 6.1 percent in September.


The department is in the midst of its annual Hire-A-Vet campaign, which sets a goal to hire 100 veterans in 100 days. Typically, the kickoff is the state’s largest job fair of the year, but the organizers have shifted to virtual events, like a presentation about resume writing.

Last year, more than 250 employers participated and more than 280 veterans were hired during the campaign. This year, the department said 217 employers have signed on to the campaign, despite the pandemic.

“In a way, doing it virtually, the campaign is really more active than it was before when we did it in person,” said Mark Cafiso, a local veteran’s employment representative who works on the campaign. “When things get back to normal next year, we think we’ll do a combination.”

Veterans Sean and Alyssa Spillane were among the service members and veterans looking for work this year in the uncertain job market created by the pandemic. Photo submitted by Alyssa Spillane

The organizers said the group includes fewer employers from the tourism and restaurant industries, but they are still hearing from interested employers in the construction, manufacturing and health care fields.

Northern Light Health is among them. Matthew Crosier is now a manager of talent acquisition there, but four years ago, he was also a veteran looking for a job in Maine. Despite 10 years of experience in the Army and a bachelor’s degree in human resources, he struggled to get responses to the 100 resumes he sent out when he first moved to the state with his family.

He said he wishes he knew about the Hire-A-Vet campaign back then, and he is glad his own employer participates every year. Cafiso said Northern Light Health hired 32 veterans during the campaign last year; they had already made a couple hires in the first days of this year’s campaign.


“A lot of my friends didn’t end up landing on their feet like I did,” said Crosier, 33. “They ended up having to go on unemployment or having to take a minimum wage job. I learned about all these resources the Army didn’t tell me about when I was transitioning out. It’s been my goal to try to share that message and try to help anyone I can on their transition.”

Boots2Roots is one of those resources. Executive Director Bill Benson said the nonprofit runs primarily on volunteer efforts, but he planned to hire a second employee this year. The pandemic disrupted fundraising and delayed that growth, but Benson said Boots2Roots has still helped more than 30 people get civilian jobs as of September, already surpassing the 28 people from 2019.

One key goal for the organization is retention. Benson said he wasn’t aware of any service members who worked with the nonprofit last year and then got laid off this year due to COVID-19, although some might have been furloughed. Right now, he said, none are receiving unemployment.

“They’re used to leading people,” Benson said of the veterans. “They’re used to getting work done on deadline. They’re used to communicating with their supervisors. They show up to work on time. … You can teach the skill, but you can’t always teach the attitude.”

Many people who work with Boots2Roots are moving to Maine for the first time. The Spillanes decided to return here because they like spending all four seasons outdoors and wanted to be close to Alyssa’s family. When they were job hunting, she said, Boots2Roots helped her translate her military experience on her resume into terms that would be understood in the civilian world and set her up with an interview coach.

She doubted she would have found her job without the guidance and connections she made at Boots2Roots.

“The biggest thing I would pass on would be to not be afraid to reach out to other veterans and make connections,” Spillane said. “Gone are the days of just applying online and hoping something happens. It’s about who you know.”

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