Shomarri Taylor, program specialist for Veterans Upward Bound at the University of Central Missouri, started assisting veterans in December 2017 when she became the first full-time employee at Veterans Upward Bound, originally under the title of office professional.

Despite the job titles Taylor and her co-workers hold, all key staff members are qualified and able to support and assist a veteran, which they are all able to do in their own individual styles.

“We handle them all different, because we’re all different,” Taylor said.

Having been with Veterans Upward Bound since the beginning, Taylor has helped build the organization into what it is today with her co-workers.

“The whole ride has been fun,” Taylor said.

What would surprise people most to learn about your job?

“Every veteran and every situation we deal with on a daily basis is different and nothing that we do is ever the same. We have a foundation to start with. But the way we go about dealing with each veteran is totally different. One person may need more hands-on interaction and activity versus someone who may just need help with application fees. People think that we just do the basic stuff like help them get into school and get their degrees. While, yes, that’s a big part of it, there’s more to it.”

What’s the most common question you get about what you do?

“The major question everyone asks is, ‘What is Veterans Upward Bound?’ Or, ‘Are you affiliated with the Military Veterans Center?’ That’s something we are always clarifying. Although we work closely with them, we are funded by the Department of Education, we’re a totally different group.”

What is the most challenging aspect for your job?

“I find myself struggling with taking on too much of other people’s stuff. When they come in and they’re struggling, I’m a super empathetic person just by nature. I try to go above and beyond to help them out, but I also find myself putting my neck out there a lot. That’s hard, but I don’t mind that, I love that, but I also start feeling sad and then we’re both sad together. Also, finding a balance between everything and finding a place because there are other military services on campus, so it hasn’t been an easy road establishing ourselves. We got it done, but there were some challenging points along the way. We started as a two-man team, myself and our current director, so just to go from there to now with our three-man team, the transition was rough. But I don’t look at it as a challenge; I look at it as an opportunity to grow.”

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job or career?

“When a veteran succeeds and they get enrolled and they come in and say, ‘Thank you, I didn’t know how I was going to do this.’ I know at least four veterans that come in just to talk. To know that they trust me enough and they care just like I care, that is the most rewarding feeling of it all. And knowing that we went above and beyond and we kept on pushing and nothing stood in our way. They just needed someone to help them get through that. Knowing that from those people ... Having my kids was like the closest feeling to that.”

Would 10-year-old you be surprised that you are in this position or field?

“Yeah because 10-year-old me wanted to be a ballerina or a chef, all of the cool stuff. At one point I think I wanted to be a unicorn — which I still am at heart — I have glitter and sprinkles all around me all the time. But 10-year-old me would probably be like, ‘Wow. Look at you.’ I did not think I would find a career that I absolutely love, other than my own business where I bake and I love that because its fun, its different and I don’t feel pressure and I feel the same exact way here. To really feel that and be in this kind of position, that’s pretty awesome and I think that if I was looking at myself now as a 10-year-old, I’d want to be me right now.”

What advice would you give someone starting a job similar to yours?

“Do not go into the position expecting anything. Be open to change, be able to adapt, be willing to listen and actively listen. And not just to what what you want to hear and prepare to respond. Just be that person to listen to, be prepared to make connections. Be okay with having uncomfortable conversations. All that stuff happens on a daily basis. That builds that trust. That builds that bond. Once you build a bond with a veteran, it can’t be broken. You have to do some really jacked up stuff to break that bond. You have a brother or sister for life. Be prepared to have a couple more family members added on. I consider a lot of them my family. I’ve had some vets come to my house, play with my kids, their kids play with my kids. We just went trick-or-treating with one of our vets and her kiddos. It really is like they’re family.”

Staff Writer Dustin Steinhoff can be reached by emailing dustin.steinhoff@dsjnow.com or by calling (660) 747-8123.

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