Alum Works to Ease Military-Civilian Transitions
Jaime T. Zagami ’08 (Political Science) supports our troops. This support does not mean hanging yellow ribbons or waving American flags. Instead, her support means a personal and professional devotion to easing the transition from military to civilian life -- especially for those service men and women with post-traumatic or other combat-induced disorders.
Zagami’s motivation to work with veterans stems from a close connection to her brother, a UMass alum and one of the first post-9/11 combat veterans to return to campus. “Watching his struggle to reintegrate impassioned me to get involved,” she recalls.
As a result of some of the complications she witnessed, she, her brother, and another solider, founded UMass’ Veterans And Service Members Association (VASMA), a student organization established to facilitate the transition between military and academic environments. VASMA occupied much of Zagami’s time at UMass, and she remembers its creation as one of her proudest accomplishments. “Without VASMA, I would not be the person that I am today,” she says. “[I]t provided me with the opportunity to do something much bigger than myself and to find enjoyment in helping others...[It is where] I started my career path before I even realized it.”
Indeed, the way in which VASMA would dictate Zagami’s career was not clear after graduation: “When I graduated from UMass, I thought that my work with veterans was behind me, as it had directly related to my brother, and other on-campus veterans’ wellbeing at school,” she says. She accepted a job as a pharmaceutical sales representative and thought she was on the path toward a successful business career. However, she quickly realized that she would not find a satisfying future in the pharmaceutical industry. Moreover, her brother was struggling at home with medical conditions brought on by his military service. “I decided to leave my job and move back to Boston,” she reflects. “[Once in Boston,] I accepted a new position to ‘pay the bills,’ yet I vowed to eventually find a position that aligned more closely with my goals.”
Just such a position opened approximately a year after her move. Zagami joined American Corporate Partners (ACP) in 2011 as an operations associate. Working at a national veteran’s non-profit has allowed Zagami to fulfill her desire to give back to the veterans’ community while also putting many of the skills she developed leading VASMA to work. Both VASMA and ACP are designed to assist veterans with transitions out of military life. Whereas VASMA offers services to help military men and women transition into academia, ACP helps with the transition into the workforce. It offers one-on-one mentoring between veterans and executives at some of the nation's top corporations in order to help move veterans into business careers, Zagami explains. The position has been an ideal combination of personal interests and professional expertise.
With a background in VASMA, a job at ACP, and a veteran at home, it would be hard to imagine how Zagami could become more involved in veterans’ affairs. Yet, for the past few years, she has also been able to weave veterans support services into her volunteer work with the Home Base Program – a collaboration between the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Red Sox Foundation which seeks to help veterans with deployment- or combat-related stress and/or traumatic brain injury. In addition to providing clinical support services, the Home Base Program organizes the annual Run to Home Base, a 9K run which ends when runners cross home plate at Fenway Park.
Zagami has raised thousands of dollars through this program. In fact, her team’s fundraising set records during her first year: “By race day, we were the third highest grossing fundraising team, with only the Red Sox and former ball player and Red Sox Nation President Jerry Remy's team ‘besting’ our fundraising efforts,” she recalls. This impressive achievement prompted the organization to ask Zagami to change her team name to the flagship name “Team Home Base,” a team which she will captain again this year.
Zagami is thankful that she has been able to merge her personal interests and passions into so many aspects of her life: “I am very fortunate to have found a way to incorporate my family and community service into my work,” she says. “Without the personal connections to the work that I do, or the fulfillment of feeling like I am making a difference for others, getting up for work each morning would be much more difficult.” She encourages students interested in a similar combination of interests to stay motivated. “Stay open to the things that call to you and dive into the industries or programs that mean the most to you personally,” she says. “I was not initially intent on building a career in veteran's affairs but have found that I am much happier in this sphere.”