This initiative helps veterans across the U.S. turn military experience into small-business growth.
Submitted by Regions Bank
By Veleka Finch
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn., December 15, 2023 /CSRwire/ - Stirred by the 9/11 terror attacks and a desire to serve his country, Barry Brock enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in November 2001.
From 2002 to 2006, Brock was part of the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment at Camp LeJeune. He deployed to Iraq twice and fought in the historic retaking of Fallujah in November 2004.
As Brock transitioned back to civilian life in Chattanooga, Tennessee, his next mission became clear.
“Some of my friends didn’t come back from Iraq, and it really put it in perspective that we only get one life,” Brock said. “Why spend it being unhappy? Why not go for what I want and what makes me happy?”
For Brock, happiness has always come from seeing people enjoy food like the kind prepared by his grandmother, who was “one of those country cooks who could cook anything and everything. It almost seemed like magic,” he marveled.
Some of my friends didn’t come back from Iraq, and it really put it in perspective that we only get one life. Why spend it being unhappy? Why not go for what I want and what makes me happy?
So, Brock used his GI Bill to earn a culinary degree. And in 2019, after years as a chef and culinary instructor, he started his own catering business, Sweet Merry Berry. The “sweet” is a reference to the grandmother who shaped his love for cooking. Brock says the “merry berry” derives from an alteration of his wife’s first name (Maria) and his first name (Barry). The company name is all in the family.
After initially focusing on serving up “sweets” as a pastry chef, Brock later enrolled in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Veteran Entrepreneurship Program (VEP) to help define a clearer focus and strategy for his business.
VEP is a three-phase program that covers key elements of successful entrepreneurship in the following order:
VEP serves veterans who:
The program gives preference to applicants who are identified as disabled by the Veterans Administration or are service-distinguished based on exemplary military conduct.
Since 2012, VEP has helped more than 850 veterans from across the U.S. start or grow their businesses. Boot camp travel and lodging expenses are underwritten by sponsors and private donors. Program instructors and mentors volunteer their time to teach sessions on business planning, funding, marketing, legal issues, and accounting, and serve as advisors after the boot camp.
“Veterans sacrifice a lot in service to our country, and we must recognize the importance of supporting them when they transition back to civilian life,” said Sandra Cordell, a U.S. Navy veteran and director of VEP.
“I understand the commitment, dedication, and resilience required to serve in the military,” Cordell emphasized. “Our shared experiences are a source of strength, and leading the VEP allows me to build a network of support that extends beyond the uniform.”
The Alabama-based Regions Foundation, a nonprofit funded primarily by Regions Bank, has joined VEP’s network of support. Jason Allen, Chattanooga market executive for Regions Bank, presented a $30,000 grant to VEP on behalf of the foundation during a recent tailgate reunion for VEP alums at a UTC home football game.
Our shared experiences are a source of strength, and leading the VEP allows me to build a network of support that extends beyond the uniform.
Sandra Cordell, U.S. Navy veteran and director of VEP
“By supporting initiatives that help veterans gain resources to become successful entrepreneurs, Regions Bank and the Regions Foundation are able to make a clear and measurable difference for our nation’s service members and warriors as they transition to civilian lives,” Allen said.
“As we create this positive difference, we are also able to create more inclusive prosperity for veterans in Chattanooga and beyond,” Allen added. “We believe that for our communities to truly flourish, we must do everything we can to ensure all people have access to opportunities to succeed. And UT-Chattanooga is creating those opportunities for veterans.”
Sweet Merry Berry catered the tailgate reunion with a barbecue-themed spread that included savory meats and sides and made-from-scratch banana pudding. Brock was honored to serve his VEP brothers and sisters.
“We all kind of talk the same language, no matter what branch we’re in, no matter what job we had,” Brock said. “It was great to see [where] people [are] with their dreams.”
“Some days it’s still scary, but you know what? Go for it! Because you don’t want to get to the end of your life and have regrets,” Brock maintained. “Because of VEP, I went from just having a dream to actually living it every day.”
About Regions Foundation
Regions Foundation supports community investments that positively impact the communities served by Regions Bank. The Foundation engages in a grantmaking program focused on priorities including economic and community development; education and workforce readiness; and financial wellness. The Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation funded primarily through contributions from Regions Bank.
Regions Financial Corporation (NYSE:RF), with $147 billion in assets, is a member of the S&P 500 Index and is one of the nation’s largest full-service providers of consumer and commercial banking, wealth management, and mortgage products and services. Regions serves customers across the South, Midwest and Texas , and through its subsidiary, Regions Bank, operates more than 1,300 banking offices and 2,000 ATMs. Regions Bank is an Equal Housing Lender and Member FDIC. Additional information about Regions and its full line of products and services can be found at www.regions.com.
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