For numerous veteran students, the Veterans Resource Center is a much needed safe haven, a stable place to stand for veteran students feeling overwhelmed by the transition into civilian life.
However, when it appears that the center’s leadership is not supported by Clark College, things start to feel shaky. The Veterans Resource Center staff includes student employees, two certifying officials and the manager. The certifying officials are full time, state-funded employees; the management position is not.
Many veterans make use of the center for various reasons, one of them being a way to express their feelings and talk about their experiences openly.
Marine veteran Colby Banzler explained that there is always a chance that younger students might be around and overhear conversations. “We can be more of our natural selves here,” Benzler said. “We don’t have to fake it.”
At a recent budget meeting, some veterans showed their concern about the future of the Veterans Center.
In addition to going into a year with a tight budget, Vice President of Administrative Services Bob Williamson, explained that there are other budget challenges for the center.
“We do have a donor who helps support and the donors have been very generous, but the donor was at the point where they’re saying they would like to see the college step in,” Williamson said.
Veterans Resource Manager Dave Daly, and Vice President of Student Affairs William Belden, both agree that finding one-time funds to support the manager position will continue to get harder after Clark implemented the 5% budget cut.
According to Belden, he has once again requested that Clark College permanently fund 50% of the management salary. For the past two years Clark has funded 50% of the salary, but through one time funding, that might not be there in the future. Belden explained one time funding as money that comes in to the Department of Student of Affairs through permanent funding, which can then be reallocated.
Currently the management position is paid through grants and donations from community members, in addition to one time funds from Clark.
Belden explained that regardless of whether or not the budget committee decides to allocate funds towards the Veterans Center Manager, the position is funded through the next year.
Having a place where people with similar life experiences can come together creates a much needed sense of common ground.
Erik Martinez, a Marine veteran and student employee at the center, explained that when veterans are released from the service, the transition can be really hard.
“They give you about a week for you to get your stuff situated and then you’re out into the world,” Martinez said. “The military does not explain how to use your benefits for school or anything else.”
In addition to helping veterans receive their VA funding, the Veteran Center is a place where veterans and dependents can get scholastic tutoring and check out textbooks from the lending library. It also provides a sanctuary where they can be themselves freely.
Alyson Perez, also a Marine veteran, and Martinez both served in the same unit of the Marines at different times and are now both students at Clark. “I knew of her because she was kind of my replacement,” Martinez said.
He said that working at the Veterans Center gave him a chance to guide Perez and many other students through the process because it can be very intimidating.
“I don’t think I would have been able to succeed without the veterans resource center,” Martinez said.
Perez agreed saying she would have never followed through with school without the help of the Veterans Resource Center. “I would just get a job if I didn’t have somebody helping me,” said Perez. “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.”
Kacee Keating is a veteran dependent who also works at the center. She said that being there has helped her connect with other military wives and children, which is a different way to connect.
“Some of us had parents that were injured like my stepdad was. So that was really traumatic to go through as a child,” Keating said. “We see a whole different side of things.”
When asked if he would be asking Clark to cover 100% of the funding, Belden said that it is a balancing act.
“In student affairs, we didn’t lay anybody off in our departments,” Belden said. “We made our budget cuts, we eliminated vacant positions, we moved things around and we restructured and we reached out.”
In addition to the Veterans Resource Manager the department of student affairs has another position, an enrollment navigator, that is not permanently funded. “Those two positions are maintained and are funded through next year,” he said. “We are committed to both of them and seeing them through, because the work that they do is important to us.”
Although the Veterans Resource Center falls under the Department of Student Affairs budget, Belden does not oversee it directly. According to him, as a result, there was a missed opportunity for communication. “When communication doesn’t work effectively, it instills fear and then there are challenges,” he said.
“There was a misunderstanding that because we were asking for funding, that it meant we didn’t have any money,” he said. “That is where I think the miscommunication occurred.”
Belden confirmed that this is not the first time his department has ask
ed for permanent funding for this position. He said that he was disappointed in the past when Clark decided not to include this position officially in the budget.
“Veterans are an important population,” Belden said. “We have a lot of groups of students here who need additional support, veterans are one of those groups.”