Dennis Cronin has come a long way since 2012 when he was referred to MERS/Goodwill’s Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP). In less than two years, Dennis has overcome more personal and professional barriers than most do in a lifetime. Today, Dennis is the building manager for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post in St. Charles – the second largest in the state that oversees more than 1,000 members.
Dennis made an immediate impression on Cherie LeFort, MERS/Goodwill’s SCSEP Employment Specialist, when he began working with her two years ago. His determination to overcome his barriers was inspiring and an indicator of the remarkable person he is today.
Dennis joined the military following the premature death of his son and the end of his marriage. He was an active duty officer in the U.S. Army Artillery with the First Cannon Battalion in 1986. Upon his return, Dennis struggled to find his place in society. He found himself battling depression, eventually self-medicating with alcohol and moving around living between friends’ homes.
Dennis found solace at the local VFW post in St. Charles and soon became a regular, attending game nights and fish fries and relating to other veterans dealing with depression. As Dennis tried to pick up the pieces of his life, he continued to struggle with living independently.
In March of 2012, after spending nearly a week living on the street, Dennis made the decision to deal with some outstanding legal concerns.
“That was a turning point for me,” said Dennis. “I had never considered myself a quitter, but it was hard to overcome the bad choices I made in my life.”
Dennis then turned to MERS/Goodwill for help, where he connected with Cherie. As a SCSEP Employment Specialist, Cherie helps low-income persons age 55 or older that need help finding a job by providing subsidized, work-based training.
“Dennis immediately qualified for the program because of the challenging circumstances he faced – not only as a senior citizen looking to reenter the workforce, but a veteran too,” said Cherie. “Dennis knew he wanted to work at the VFW post so we established that goal as a top priority.”
When Cherie approached Paul Schmidt, District Manager at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Kohl-Jeck Post 2866 in St. Charles to see if there were any volunteer opportunities for Dennis, Paul was eager to be involved. As a Vietnam veteran himself, Paul understands the need for programs and services like the VFW and MERS Goodwill that provide for veterans. The VFW Kohl-Jeck Post 2866 is one of the largest in the state and raised more than $50,000 for veterans last year.
“The average life expectancy of a Vietnam veteran is 63 years old,” Paul said. “It’s our job to do what we can to help these veterans make it past their 63rd birthday.”
Together, Cherie and Paul worked to establish one significant goal for Dennis: create stability in his life, help him to address the prior legal concerns, and eventually obtain a driver’s license. In working toward these goals, Cherie has seen Dennis slowly gain self-esteem and overcome his self-doubt.
“Making the connection with Paul really was one of the best things I could have asked for in giving Dennis a second chance,” said Cherie. “Once Dennis saw that we believed in him, he naturally evolved into this incredibly thoughtful and motivated person.”
Dennis was assigned to help the VFW in June 2013 for 20 hours a week through the MERS/Goodwill SCSEP. Then in March of 2014, Dennis was hired by the VFW, working 35 hours a week and he was able to find a place to live near the VFW post. His position as building manager includes general maintenance, housekeeping, and providing support and scheduling for large events like wedding receptions and the fish fries.
As a veteran, Dennis never thought the toughest war he would fight would be after his time in the military but, thanks to the support from Cherie and Paul, he doesn’t have to fight alone.
“Dennis has persevered. He is a true hero who continues to inspire me,” added Cherie. “With all of his hard work, Dennis is the one who really made his incredible journey possible.”