Jun 20, 2016 at 06:33 PM

Second home for veterans; Students find camaraderie and more at UCSB resource center – Santa Barbara News Press, May 29, 2016

By Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation

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Veterans Sam Reid, left, a UCSB graduate student and veteran admissions counselor, and Daniel Cha, an undergraduate math major, unroll an American flag near Storke Tower. Students get help on campus from the UCSB Veterans Resource Center.



From left, Thomas Vu, who served this school year as vice president of the Student Veterans Organization; veteran Daniel Cha; and Tami Thacker, who was president of the Student Veterans Organization, gather at the UCSB Veterans Resource Center, which provides space for recreation, studying and information.


From left, student veterans Daniel Cha, Tami Thacker, Thomas Vu and Sam Reid gather on campus. Veterans such as them appreciate the community provided by the UCSB Veterans Resource Center


Veterans Daniel Cha and Tami Thacker meet at the UCSB Veterans Resource Center, which offers space for socializing.

This is more than a room with a pool table, sofas, computers, microwave and fridge.

For the 100 or so student veterans at UCSB, the Veterans Resource Center is a second home.

"The mission here is to have a safe place for veterans to come and socialize and meet others, a place where everyone can be comfortable," said Thomas Vu, a former Marine who served as vice president this school year of the Student Veterans Organization.

Veterans, whose service is being honored nationally Monday, Memorial Day, have 24-hour access to the center. Here they study, surf the Internet, discuss common problems, and get information about campus counseling and psychological services, courses for veterans, university-owned housing, scholarships and crisis and career programs. Student Veterans Organization, a UCSB club, lists its activities, such as camping or barbecues, on the room's blackboard.

The center, which started in a small office in 2013 in Building 434 near Storke Tower, moved to its larger space, Room 123 in the same complex, in 2014, with help from the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation.

Since 2013, the Santa Barbara foundation, which financially supports the center, has donated $90,000 per year to pay for UCSB's full-time coordinator of veteran and military services, Kevin Hagedorn. Last year, a Birnam Wood Golf Club tournament raised $160,000 to help student veterans with financial difficulties and to operate the student center, Hazel Blankenship, the foundation's co-founding director, told the News-Press.

In a statement, Mr. Hagedorn said the resource center helps veterans develop meaningful relationships.

"Student veterans face a unique set of challenges upon entering college compared to a traditional first-year student."

Veterans are usually older than other students, transferring as juniors; often have families of their own; and may be returning to civilian life with disabilities.

Mr. Hagedorn was not available for an interview, but student veterans at the center told the News-Press about the importance of them being together as a community on campus.

"It's hard to find people like us out there because the (UCSB) population is so young," said Tami Thacker, 41, who served this school year as president of Student Veterans Organization. She'll graduate in June with a bachelor's degree in cultural anthropology and plans to take graduate classes in mental health in the fall at Cal State Fullerton or Cal State San Bernardino. She plans to eventually become a U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs social worker to help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The resource center brings veterans together, said Ms. Thacker, who left the Navy in 2011 after serving as a petty officer and corpsman in San Diego.

Students at the center, she said, chat about readjusting to civilian life and going to school with people who weren't in the military and may be less disciplined.

"You struggle a little bit with the young people because they don't do what they're supposed to do. When the teacher says, 'Do this,' we do this," Ms. Thacker said. "And you see all these young people in the classroom not doing (what they're told), and it's frustrating."

Added Mr. Vu of the Student Veterans Organization: "In the military, we're trained to sit there and wait until you're dismissed. As students start putting their stuff away (before class is over), you can no longer hear the professor speaking anymore. As veterans, it irks us a lot when students show that amount of disrespect to the professor.

"We come here and talk about it."

Another struggle for some veterans: students not walking to the right. "Here, people walk all over the place," said Ms. Thacker. "I wanted to scream at them and say, 'What are you doing?' " she said with a laugh. "It's small things like that.

"We're used to order and structure, and there's no order and structure out there," Ms. Thacker said. "It's just difficult to adapt to it. You have to let go of your training to fit in. ... You can't expect all of those kids to change their ways. It's just the way they are. One of the things I've learned is it's not fair to hold people responsible for the standards that we've gained from our experiences."

Daniel Cha said the center helped him in readjusting to civilian life.

"The common thread of being in the military creates a genuine sense of camaraderie wherever we go," said Mr. Cha, 24, who served as a Marine lance corporal at Camp Pendleton and is now majoring in math.

Mr. Cha said he and other veterans appreciate the resource center as a quiet place to study. "It's nice to get away from the crowd at the (UCSB) library."

Mrs. Blankenship of the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation said the UCSB center, which also has served student veterans at Santa Barbara City College, and the university's related services are ahead of the curve in the state. "Other UC campuses are trying to produce the same program."

She said the need is critical.

"I would ask people to be aware there are 1.25 million veterans in college (nationally), and Veterans Affairs stats say that figure is going to go up 10 percent annually for at least 10 years," Mrs. Blankenship, 69, of Montecito, said. "People need to be aware that when they come and get acclimated in society, we need to help them in any way we can.

"They've agreed to potentially lay their lives down for the country. They deserve any help they can get."

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The UCSB Veterans Resource Center is in Building 434, Room 123. Student veterans have 24-hour access to the room, which features computers, printers, snacks, a pool table, and sofas for socializing and studying. The center also provides information on UCSB programs and activities for veterans.

In addition to veterans, the center helps active-duty service members, reservists, national guardsmen/women and military dependents.

For more information, call Kevin Hagedorn, coordinator for veteran and military services, at 893-4724 or go to www.sa.ucsb.edu/veterans/home.

The Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation gives financial support to the center. To donate, call the foundation at 259-4394 or go to www.pcvf.org.



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