Hiring Our Heroes has announced that a sweepstakes winner for a 2021 Toyota 4Runner was awarded to an Army Veteran who learned about the contest through VA’s weekly #VetResources newsletter.
Ernest Knight (shown above, third from left in a pink shirt) enlisted in the Army with one goal in mind – to retire after serving 20 years. Unfortunately, his Army career was cut short after he suffered an injury while deployed.
After being honorably discharged at the rank of specialist, Knight searched for his next course of action.
Through VA’s Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program in Salem, Virginia, Knight received assistance and educational support to guide him through what he described as a rough military transition. Formerly known as the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program (VocRehab), VR&E provides Veterans with job training, employment accommodations, resume development, and job-seeking skills coaching.
“Being injured changed my course,” he said. “So, I had to figure out what I was going to do. Thankfully, I had the help of VA, so I was able to get the support that I needed.”
His impactful experience led Knight to pursue a career in criminal justice and psychology. He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a minor in psychology from Radford University. In December 2020, Knight completed his master’s degree in criminal justice with an emphasis in critical incident management from Saint Leo University.
“That’s part of the reason why I went into criminal justice and psychology. I want to help other people,” he said.
Knight would like to work at a federal agency, like FEMA, TSA, VA, or Homeland Security, but he hasn’t yet been able to secure federal employment.
“One [job] that I’m particularly interested in is educational specialist, especially with the Army. I feel like I can really be a benefit there,” he said. “I’ve been in the Army so I can relate with other soldiers and Veterans in regards to helping them with pursuing a career or education.”
VA helped me; it will help you, too
Knight is quick to tell you how VA guided him during his military transition, but most recently, VA’s impact on his life was a bit serendipitous.
Hiring Our Heroes awarded Knight with a 2021 Toyota 4Runner as the winner of the Committed to America’s Heroes sweepstakes, a contest that he entered through a link he saw in VA’s VetResources newsletter last year.
Knight was up late one night scrolling through his inbox when he saw an email from VA about the sweepstakes. He kept scrolling.
“I was like, ‘No, that’s not real.’ Who gives away a car?” Knight said.
Later, Knight saw the sweepstakes in another email from VA. This time, he stopped and doubtfully entered the sweepstakes.
“I remember I told my fiancé Julio, ‘I’ll put my name, even though it’s never going to happen” Knight said. “And surprisingly, it happened. When I found out that I won a car, I was totally shocked.”
Knight was randomly selected among more than 85,000 entries. The sweepstakes were open to all active duty, reserve and guard service members, Veterans and military spouses late last year.
Knight was presented with a 2021 Toyota 4Runner during a ceremony on March 30, 2021, at the DeLuca Toyota dealership in Ocala, Florida. This is the third time that Hiring Our Heroes has awarded a Toyota to a member of the military community.
“Hiring Our Heroes is proudly celebrating its tenth year of impact. Our success has been dependent upon the strength of public-private partnerships with organizations such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and Toyota. We are thrilled to present a new vehicle to Ernest Knight, a third-generation Veteran who proudly served in the U.S. Army,” said Adam Rocke, senior director of Events and Programs at Hiring Our Heroes during the March 30 vehicle presentation at the DeLuca Toyota dealership.
“This isn’t a handout,” Rocke said. “This is a hand-up that will help you and Julio on your journey to find[ing] meaningful employment.”
During his acceptance speech, Knight recounted his military transition journey to the small crowd of spectators and those watching the Facebook Live stream.
“It wasn’t easy for me,” he recalled. “VA helped me and I am very thankful for that. I encourage other Veterans to use the resources available at VA. They helped me. They will help you too.”
Since 2011, Toyota has partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes on the Personal Branding Initiative to address the issue of unemployment among Veterans, transitioning service members and military spouses by helping more than 100,000 job seekers translate their military skills, volunteer experiences and expertise into meaningful employment. Learn more about Toyota continues to demonstrate its ongoing commitment to help the military community successfully integrate into the American workforce at HiringOurHeroes.org/Toyota.
The sharing of any non-VA information does not constitute an endorsement of products and services on the part of VA.
Elizabeth Garcia is the director of Strategic Communications at Hiring Our Heroes.