Master Sergeant Melissa Pandolf (Ret.) has a good job. She has a great husband and incredible kids. Overall, life is pretty good. But it wasn't always that way.
In 2016, when Melissa retired from active military service, she had four young children and was having difficulty transitioning back into civilian life, paying bills, and feeding her family. A friend mentioned that Long Island Cares could help, so she decided to check it out.
She stopped in for Military Appreciation Tuesday, a Long Island Cares program that allows veterans and their families to pick up food each week at all of our locations compared to the usual once-a-month visits for clients.
While waiting her turn to shop for food, Long Island Cares' Veteran Life Skills Specialist, Fern Summer, approached her and asked to have a conversation. Little did she know her life was about to change forever.
“We started having a conversation, and she brought me to the conference room. I was getting upset because I felt so lost.” Melissa said. “But she helped me put a resume together. She gave me all the various options. She mentored me on how to do an interview and how to get what you ask for.”
Over the next few weeks, Melissa met with Fern and worked her way through Long Island Cares' VetsWork program that helps veterans like her find gainful employment after returning to civilian life.
Through Fern's mentoring, Melissa got a job as a Service Officer at the Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency, working alongside her fellow veterans. Now she gets to help over 85,000 vets like herself receive the benefits the government owes them. “Five and a half years I'm here now. And it's directly because of VetsWork,” she said.
With a new career, a new outlook on life, and newfound inspiration from Long Island Cares, Melissa now has the tools to give back to her community outside of her military service. “Every holiday season, my husband and I give out turkeys, whether it's the 106th Rescue Wing, the Farmingdale Reserve Center, or others. It's great, and we do a lot of events together.”
In her new occupation, Melissa now guides struggling vets down the same path she once walked. “Veterans don't like to ask for anything. They don't like to ask for help, but I always say, come, have a conversation with me. Let's see what we can do; you'd be surprised.”