Patrick Tillich served five years in the U.S. Army, and when he returned home from Saudi Arabia, he fell on hard times.
Like many veterans in Orange County, Tillich struggled to find a positive transition into the civilian lifestyle and battled with addictions to alcohol and drugs. Tillich later made his way into a program for homeless veterans and then came across Working Wardrobes, a non-profit committed to helping people get into the workforce.
"I felt that nobody cared about who I was as a person," said Tillich, a resident of South Orange County. "I had no direction or purpose in life, living day-to-day feeling alone and outcast by society."
The organization lent Tillich a helping hand, and it soon discovered there were many more veterans who needed similar assistance. So VetNet was born. Based in Costa Mesa, the Working Wardrobes facility provides veterans, as well as men, women and young adults, with access to a hair salon, two rooms full of business-type clothes and shoes, a personal shopper to help them put work outfits together and resources to help build a resume, look for a job and improve their skills.
"Working Wardrobes created VetNet as a resource for these dedicated servicemen and women to develop the skills, confidence and connections they need in order to help write a positive next chapter in their lives," Jerri Rosen, founder and CEO of Working Wardrobes, said.
Tillich said because the organization stepped in when he was down on his luck, he was able to shift his life into a positive direction.
"They believed in me when I couldn't believe in myself while teaching me how to reenter the work force as productive member of society," Tillich said.
There are many more veterans like Tillich who need a lot of help. Harry Humphries, a former Navy Seal and executive director of VetNet, says 25 percent of the homeless veteran population reside in California and 10 percent are from Orange County.
"I know first-hand how hard it is to get back into civilian life, and anybody who works with VetNet has empathy toward a veteran," Humphries told Patch. "We really want to see them do well."
"It is very difficult to make the transition from military to civilian life because there is not much support," Rosen added. "There is no end to the need for this type of service."
Last week at a VetNet fundraising event, Retired Sgt. Matt Eversmann, whose story was portrayed in the movie "Black Hawk Down" said he hopes he can help inspire more people to take a chance on a veteran.
"We have this immediate bond with fellow veterans. We all need help when we get out and back to civilian life," Eversmann said. "They need all the support they can get, and VetNet is doing its part. Hopefully more people will consider hiring and helping a veteran.”
Tillich, who has been sober for six years, is now working as a computer repair technician and attending school for a degree in computer science. He is also a single father who supports two children.
If you are interested in donating clothes or monetary contributions to Working Wardrobes and VetNet, visit workingwardrobes.org.