Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

September 5, 2013

A place of their own

New resource center to serve as social hub for student veterans

By Lindsey Ziliak Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — There’s a small room nestled inside the student center at Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo military veterans at the school can now call their own.

On Wednesday, Ivy Tech officials and a group of veterans officially opened the campus’ Veterans Resource Center.

The center is furnished with sofas, a flat-screen television, DVD player and computers with voice-recognition software for disabled veterans who have trouble typing.

It’s a place where veterans can come in and study together or just hang out and socialize, said Ivy Tech Kokomo’s veterans coordinator Melissa Dwight.

“A room dedicated just for veterans, it’s a space they can call their own as they make the sometimes challenging transition from military service back to civilian life,” she said.

The center is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. It is staffed by six Ivy Tech students in the Veterans Administration work study program.

Those students, all veterans themselves, will be able to help others sign up for VA benefits — something that’s often a challenge.

Daniel Madson said the center will have a real impact on the nearly 200 Ivy Tech Kokomo region students who have served in the military.

He would know. He’s one of them.

Madson served eight years in the U.S. Army.

“We’re not always thought about, or we’re misunderstood,” he said.

And veterans, especially ones who served in combat, often face unique challenges when they return to school, he said.

The noise on a college campus is sometimes a distraction to them — one that can make it hard to study or focus.

That was something considered when the center was designed.

Madson invited some community members inside the room Wednesday to talk to them about its features.

“You shut the door and you can’t hear anything,” he said to them.

For some veterans, the center’s best feature will be its exclusivity. It’s only open to them.

Veterans tend to stay away from people who aren’t veterans, Madson said. They want to talk with people who understand what they’ve been through.

Robert Mullen, a longtime Ivy Tech donor, toured the new resource center Wednesday. He smiled as he looked around the room.

“I’m so glad they’ve been able to create a room with a big screen TV and a lounge,” he said. “This is a place for veterans to meet, mix and share stories. After all they’ve given, they deserve a place to call their own.”

Dwight has grand visions for the space. She wants to start one-on-one tutoring for veterans. She also wants to open it up as a meeting space to discuss issues veterans face.

She’s already working with the VA to bring workshops to campus. The first one will be on suicide prevention.

Skip Whitenack, a past district commander for the VFW, said he had to see the resource center for himself. So he made sure he was there for the grand opening.

When he saw the new space Wednesday, he could hardly believe his eyes, he said.

It shows there’s a commitment to and respect for student veterans at the college, he said.

Veterans didn’t have that same respect when they were coming home from war years ago.

He said he remembers a time when veterans were called baby killers.

“No one cared about us,” he said. “They said, ‘You’re a veteran. So what?’ There was nothing out there for us. When we came home, all we had was the bars.”

The new resource center at Ivy Tech is a definite step in the right direction, he said. And when the word spreads, a lot of veterans will probably start using it, Whitenack said.

He knows he would. Whitenack said he was amazed by the space.

“It’s a longtime coming,” he said. “Seeing this place, it almost brings you to tears. It’s great.”

Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, can be reached at 765-454-8585 or at lindsey.ziliak@kokomotribune.com.