By Greg McGee / Special to Viewpoints
By Greg McGee / Special to Viewpoints
With Memorial Day approaching on May 30, it is especially timely to stop and think of those who have served this country.
You don’t have to look far to find a veteran. Santos Martinez, a former Marine who works in Veterans Services at RCC, said that approximately 600 student veterans attend Riverside City College.
This number is consistent with a Board of Trustees’ report showing a steadily increasing number of veterans, 729 in the District as of 2009, with the majority of them at RCC.
These veterans have been through what their fellow students have only seen on television. As they transition back into life at home, they face challenges that others can only imagine.
Marquis Palmer, a former Marine and president of the RCC Veterans Club, says that what is missing for many of these students, after getting out of the service, is the camaraderie and morale.
“The veterans aren’t sure where to go to get support,” said Palmer.
On April 27, the Veteran’s Resource Center opened at RCC in response to this problem.
The new center is meant to serve as a rallying point for student veterans, where they can receive assistance with their Veterans Administration benefits.
The center also offers veterans a welcoming and safe environment, assistance with re-entry into both civilian and college life and fosters and supports their success via mentoring, peer support, academic counseling and referral to both on and off campus services.
The center was made possible in part by a non-cash grant from the Veterans Resource Center Project, a program of the High Tech Center Training Unit, in coordination with the Chancellor’s Office of the California Community Colleges.
The grant consisted of two computers and specialized software, and required RCC to provide at least a two-year commitment, a minimum of 400 square feet, the necessary staff and furnishings for the center.
The furnishings were donated by local businesses and individuals from the community including a couch, recliner, tables and chairs, a refrigerator, microwave and even a flat screen television.
Students and staff of the Veterans Resource Center said the champion of this new center has been Garth Schultz, a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math counselor and instructor in the Martin Luther King Jr. High Tech Center at RCC.
Louise Daniels, a former Marine and last year’s president of the Veterans Club, said that Schultz is “always there when you need him.”
“Garth is the perfect go-to-guy,” Daniels said.
Schultz, also a former Marine, has been providing veterans counseling assistance three times a week in the afternoon, which he says is not enough.
A common theme coming from those attending the Veterans Resource Center opening, including Marquis Palmer, was that what the veterans need more than anything else is a full-time veterans counselor.
“A lot of veterans making the transition are scared,” Palmer said. “Some of them feel intimidated or are too embarrassed to ask for help—and who better to help than someone who has been there?”
The Veterans Resource Center Project shares this sentiment. An overview of the program, called the VRC synopsis, states:
“At its core, the VRC project is based on having veterans provide services directly to fellow veterans.”
Paula McCroskey, dean of Counseling and Special Programs at RCC, agreed with the importance of having a dedicated counselor who specializes in working with veterans.
“They really need a full-time counselor,” said McCroskey. “Although, not everyone agrees with this.”
Cynthia Azari, president of RCC, said that with the budget cuts and district-wide hiring freeze, adding new staff is not an option at this time, but that she is committed to providing students with the resources that they need.
“Although, it may not be to the level they want,” said Azari. “We will offer all available resources to our student veterans.”
Azari said that she has several ideas about how to accomplish this, whether through new programs or a more efficient use of the school’s current resources, but as she was still working on these ideas with the Board of Trustees she was not prepared to elaborate on them now, but said she should be able to discuss them in June.
In Azari’s previous position, as president of Fresno City College, she worked in partnership with Pacific Gas and Electric Company on its PowerPathway™ program to train student veterans for high demand jobs in the energy and utility industries.
The issues of job training and career development are crucial because, as Santos Martinez points out, many veterans lack civilian work experience.
“Their resumes are short,” said Martinez. “There is only so much that you can elaborate on.”
The opening of the Veterans Resource Center, along with the establishment of a Veterans Club in 2009 are just two examples of how the students and staff of RCC have come together to enhance the experience of veterans on campus.
The Second Veterans Memorial Weekend 5k Run/Walk/Roll, a benefit for the RCC Veterans Fund, is scheduled to be held on May 28.
For those who would like to participate or for more information on how you can support student veterans, contact Garth Schultz at 951-222-8027.