Organization supports female veterans re-entering the workforce
Organization supports female veterans entering the workforce
What happens when a female military veteran returns to civilian life after spending years away in another country or onboard a ship as one of only a few other women? The transition can sometimes be difficult, and one White Plains resident is hoping to ease the process for local female veterans.
“The purpose is to give back to them and say thank you to them,” said Michelle Dowleyne, founder and CEO of Boots 2 Heels Inc., a program dedicated to shifting women from military boots to workplace stilettos.
“I’m a retired Army veteran and I had a hard time transitioning when I got out,” Dowleyne said. “I went back into the workforce and found myself struggling with issues. I had a good government job but still had issues I wasn’t able to work through. I started getting help and found that other women veterans out there didn’t have a lot of resources or people to talk to, and that’s where the organization started.”
The nonprofit organization provides networking opportunities, job search assistance, interview preparation, professional clothing and guides to services for female veterans.
During her 22 years in the U.S. Army, most of that time spent as a chaplain assistant, Dowleyne was deployed several times and spent holidays and birthdays away from her two children. She said being away from her family during the holiday season was the hardest and another reason why female veterans deserve to be thanked this time of year.
“Even though you’re away from your country and doing what needs to be done, you’re away from your family and missing them and that’s why I think the holidays is a special time to give back to them because they’ve given to others,” Dowleyne said. “Especially for a mother. You’re giving so much of yourself and no one is giving to you.”
Boots 2 Heels is hosting the second annual Holiday Social event Sunday, Dec. 18, at the Old Waldorf School in Waldorf. In addition to honoring all female veterans, two women will be recognized for their work spent helping veterans.
Dyotha Sweat, vice president of the Charles County NAACP and president of the Clinton Kappa chapter of Kappa Epsilon Psi Military Sorority, joined the military in 1986 and served 24 years in the U.S. Navy. Her most difficult tour, which she also says was her most rewarding, was onboard a ship based out of Japan where she was one of only a handful of females among hundreds of male counterparts. She said that time was stressful because she was held to a different standard as an example for younger soldiers and was in charge of any female concerns on the ship.
She said events and organizations like Boots 2 Heels are important to show young women the opportunities available to them.
“It showcases to our up-and-coming young ladies that you can go into the military and even if you don’t complete the 20 years, you have the opportunities the military affords you,” Sweat said. “It’s important that we as women, we continue to follow our dreams… the community needs to see that we’re professionals and educated and we may learn to shoot guns and crawl around in the mud, but we are still ladies at the end of the day.”
Sweat said being chosen as an honoree at the event was “surprising but refreshing.”
“I enjoy what I do and when I see people who have opportunities that I didn’t have at a young point in my life, it makes me feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to do and it makes me happy that I can be recognized for it,” she said.
Elizabeth McDowell, an officer with Disabled American Veterans, embarked on helping other veterans file disability claims after filing her own after retiring from the military.
McDowell joined the military in 1979 with the hope of seeing the world and experiencing different cultures. Throughout her career, McDowell traveled to Belgium, Germany, Korea and was stationed at several locations in the U.S. She said being recognized at the Boots 2 Heels event is “very rewarding.”
“I’m from a small town in the country and had never really been anywhere and to learn and know that traveling and learning how other people live and the different cultures out there is good to know — and not only that, but how to get along with people, not only Americans,” McDowell said. “It teaches you that people are people no matter where you go and even being in another country, everybody should be treated the same.”
The 2015 Boots 2 Heels, Inc. Holiday Social brought together women veterans from around the area to recognize and support each other. Boots 2 Heels Inc. is an organization dedicated to connecting female veterans to services that will help them transition to civilian life after the military. This year’s social will take place Sunday, Dec. 18 at the Old Waldorf School in Waldorf.
Boots 2 Heels, Inc. provides workshops and seminars for networking opportunities, job search assistance, interview preparation, claim assistance and more for female veterans as they shift into civilian life from the military.