VFA Co-Founder Lawrence Parkhill to Speak at the September 28 Program Meeting

VFA.Co-Founder Lawrence ParkhillVeteran Farmers of America-Connecting Veterans to Agriculture – VFA’s mission is to connect veterans to agriculture as a viable occupation in order to assist with their successful reentry into civilian life. Mary Maranville, Founder and Executive Director, recognized a growing need in the regional industry for a technically-skilled, younger workforce while experiencing the food system through the agricultural relationships she cultivated while developing SEEAG. Farm partners conveyed concern over the aging workforce and the challenge of finding employees who were capable, dedicated and hard working, while also being skilled and potential leaders.

VFA Co-Founder, USMC Veteran Lawrence Parkhill, was experiencing difficulty with finding direction in his life as a civilian after registering to fight for his country at 17 following 9/11. Parkhill served 5 years in the Marines, including 3 tours in Afghanistan. After transitioning, he took advantage of his GI Bill and enrolled in courses, but had no idea what occupation to pursue. Parkhill knew he was just one of many who were struggling with reentering civilian life and the civilian workforce for the first time as adults. 

Knowing Parkhill’s service experience and his need to find employment, Maranville connected him with a variety regional farms, ranging from small organic farms to the largest lemon producer in the country, so that he could experience agriculture as a possible vocation. These internships were impactful and instructive, and also served to enlighten the farms to a highly-employable population demographic. 

The success of the internships lead to the founding of VFA on July 4th, 2013 in order to link two community needs, and to further SEEAG’s mission. Ultimately, Parkhill became the first VFA success story, as he found employment at a major agricultural producer who partners with VFA today. 

While Maranville oversees VFA, Program Coordinator Julie Sardonia executes program implementation and development. Sardonia is a certified therapist, and is the Founder of Reins of H.O.P.E., a nonprofit serving active duty military, veterans, and their families utilizing Equine Assisted Psychotherapy and Learning. She combines her therapy background and experience with veterans in order to realize program outcomes and goals.

VFA connects veterans to agriculture as a viable occupation in order to assist with their successful reentry into civilian life. VFA does this through paid vocational internships and advisement programs at various local agricultural facilities throughout Ventura County. This 80-hour internship offers veterans the opportunity to explore agriculture as an optional immediate vocation or as a specialty to pursue in higher education. In its 3 years of operation, VFA has already successfully enrolled 13 veterans in internships and placed 8 in jobs. Many veterans currently enrolled in local colleges also express interest in the program as a way to determine whether agriculture is a career pathway they wish to apply their GI Bill to pursue. The program also educates regional agriculture employers about veteran employment and its many benefits.

The program is open to all veterans from all branches of the military. The majority of participants are Post-9/11 veterans, with some who served in the Gulf War. VFA welcomes veterans with a variety of physical and mental challenges, and pairs participants with internships and eventual placements that are conducive to their needs. The program and internships are offered within Ventura County, however veterans from throughout the nation have participated in the program.

The veterans served by VFA face a variety of challenges, particularly those recently separated from service. They are used to working in physical conditions, in close teams, and with a clear purpose to their work; which rarely occurs in civilian life. This sense of pride is lost, which can make facing civilian work discouraging and un-motivating.

Veterans often struggle with mental and physical challenges, which they do not look forward to discussing with their employer and coworkers. They may need accommodations to their work schedule, demands, and conditions. These conflicting variables and can lead to unemployment, as veterans are challenged to find employers who understand these difficulties, don’t stigmatize PTSD, and don’t confuse them with a lack of work ethic. This can further contribute to existing mental health difficulties, thus exacerbating the initial challenge.

The agricultural industry is poised to accommodate many of the employability challenges veterans face, as it offers unique flexibility and a workplace that is devoted to the higher purpose of feeding America. Furthermore, the hands-on experience of farming helps to decrease,and potentially  alleviate, some of veterans’ mental health issues. Being outdoors and in touch with the soil is restorative.

For more information about Veteran Farmers of America please visitwww.vetfarm.org

If you are interested in attending this meeting please call Sandy Masiel at 805-278-3607 to RSVP by Monday, September 26. The cost is $15.

February 24 Speaker, Sam Benner, will Educate us on Marketing and Social Media

Sam.BennerWe will be welcoming Sam Benner to our February 24 program meeting. He will be discussing the following:

  • How to use content marketing to get your message out there.
  • Social media best practices.
  • Facebook 101: He will cover the basics of profiles, pages, groups, and its amazing advertising platform.

Sam is a third generation Venturan.  His only years outside of Ventura were spent in the Bay Area where he attended Stanford University which culminated in a degree in Communications and participation in the 2000 Rose Bowl at defensive end.  His professional career started in real estate in title insurance which led to an opportunity to start an online marketing company where he created and managed campaigns for some of the area’s leading companies and non-profits.  He returned to real estate in 2014 where he currently works as a REALTOR for Keller Williams Realty.  He currently serves on the board of directors for the Ventura Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Ventura Organization, and Bell Arts Factory.  He has been married to his wife Amanda for 10 years and has 2 children, Alex and Dylan.

If you are interested in attending this meeting please call Cindy Daly at 805-701-0882 to RSVP by Monday, February 22.

The cost is $15.


Laurie Bennett will Speak about Camp NAWIC at the January 27 Program Meeting

laurie.bennettVentura County’s Camp NAWIC  is a five day, hands on construction basics learning course for high school girls. The curriculum taught includes, but is not limited to, electrical, welding, plumbing, carpentry, painting, heavy equipment operation, hand tool basics and construction safety to name a few disciplines.

The camp teaches responsibility, self esteem, team work and team building as well as promotes empowerment for young women to problem solve in a male dominated industry/profession.

These young women may not have an interest in construction before they begin the camp but will have learned many personal skills that can be used throughout their lives no matter what profession they ultimately chose.

Laurie Bennett

  • 49 year county resident, raised in Ventura, lives in Camarillo
  • Vice President of Arbee Inc, the corporate holding company for Fence Factory and C&W Construction Specialties, a family owned and operated business
  • MBA from California Lutheran University in Business Administration; Organizational Behavior
  • First female president of the Ventura County Contractor’s Association
  • Technical Advisory committee member for Green Build Construction program at Center for Employment Training in Oxnard
  • 25 year member of National Association of Women in Construction, current board member
  • Construction and life skill education of “the next generation” have been a long time passion; organizing and chairing scholarships for career & technical programs, computer aided design and drafting (CADD) competitions for high schools, Lego building competitions for K-6 and a high school girls construction camp
  • Spare time is spent with; family wine tasting and bonding, friends playing Mexican Train, traveling with a big fluffy Malamute named Skye and riding a beautiful sparkling blue touring motorcycle.

If you are interested in attending this meeting please call Cindy Daly at 805-701-0882 to RSVP by Monday, January 25.

The cost is $15.