REGION — When Mark and Tori Baird moved to Oceanside in 2004, Tori spent a lot of time walking around their neighborhood next to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
“I met a lot of military wives who would all tell me their stories,” Tori Baird said. “One day a young Marine came to our door. He had just returned from his third tour in Iraq to find his wife and kids living in a home with no utilities. His wife had been laid off and she ran out of money to pay their bills.”
The Bairds offered him some cash to get by but he refused their charity.
“He said, ‘Thank you, but no. I’m a Marine and I have to work for my money. Let me do something to earn it,’” Tori Baird said.
After agreeing $20 an hour would be fair, the Bairds found enough household chores to keep the man busy for five hours. Mark Baird also promised he would do something more long-term to help.
Almost immediately after that visit, the Bairds created their first one-day job board which eventually evolved into Patriotic Hearts, a nonprofit organization that creates effective economic stability and enhancement programs to help active duty and retired U.S. military members and their families.
Patriotic Hearts also offers mentoring, career and personal counseling, a full-time job board and job fairs, one of which will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sept. 11 at the San Diego Military Events Center, across from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, at 9323 Activity Road.
Tori Baird said the one-day job board website is extremely user-friendly. People or businesses seeking workers can easily post a job description with contact information.
She said the only downside is that for every one posting there are generally dozens of applicants. Jobs can include everything from painting a fence or fixing a broken garbage disposal to yard work and moving.
“This is a practical way for San Diego residents to look around the house, or those who have a small business, to say thank you to our veterans in a practical way,” she Baird said.
Since its launch Hire Patriots has helped more than 100,000 active duty and retired military members by providing critically needed extra income.
It also creates a network of civilian supporters for individual military members, veterans and their spouses that help them while in the military or when transitioning. The job board has won awards from two presidents and Congress.
Bryan Wiggins, who served eight years as a Marine, was deployed for his second tour one week after buying a home for his family.
“When I got back I found things were broken in the house,” he said. “The only car we had to get back and forth from work was damaged. I needed extra cash.”
Wiggins said he learned about Hire Patriots from the Navy Relief Society.
“I made $28,000 dollars extra that year by working after work and on weekends,” he said. “During three years I did 240 day jobs.”
Mostly, Wiggins said, he helped people move, but he also built a fence and spent six months helping a woman weed and clear her property.
“Out of that I got to know lots of people and when I got out (of the military) I was able to start my own solar company, Sol Rey West,” he said.
Wiggins said life wasn’t easy as it often seemed like he was working two jobs.
“Most Marines understand nothing’s free,” he said. “If you are not advantageous and take food stamps or unemployment, you will stay in the same spot you’re in. But if you work hard, you will get paid and that goes a long way in your ability to move forward.”
Wiggins, who now volunteers and is a board member at Patriotic Hearts, encourages area residents and businesses to post jobs as often as possible.
“Most people get about 40 responses immediately,” he said. “And they get someone who is on time, ready to work and will fulfill their commitment. It’s a good program.”
Visit hirepatriots.com to post one-day or full-time job opportunities. Businesses and volunteers are also needed for the Sept. 11 job fair. Contact Baird at [email protected] or (760) 730-3734 for more information.
The Bairds are also seeking veterans who would like to serve as spokespeople.
“If you happen to own or work for a business, school, organization or club that supports U.S. veterans, all the better,” they said.