Fundraiser Provides Services for Student Veterans
(Santa Ana) - Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the U.S. launched Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq). As OEF and OIF veterans returned home to utilize GI Bill benefits, many found that college campuses did not provide sufficient support services to assist them as they transitioned to civilian and student life.
Santa Ana College (SAC) student veteran Cesar Castaneda understands how difficult the shift to civilian life can be. The 29-year-old U.S Marine Corps veteran, who was deployed once to Iraq, counts himself among the lucky who came home to the support of family and friends. Even so, he found himself going through a divorce and soon became a single father with two daughters. Nevertheless, he was motivated to access his GI Bill educational benefits and enroll in college. After a false start at one community college where he did not feel welcome as a veteran, he made his way to SAC.
After more than a year at SAC, Castaneda is well on his way to finishing his associate degree in communications. He has set his sights on transferring to Cal State Fullerton or Cal State Long Beach where he plans on majoring in public relations. But in the meantime, he has found his home at the college’s Veterans Resource Center (VRC) where he also works part-time.
“The VRC is really helpful. The people who work there are really welcoming and knowledgeable and provide the support transitioning veterans need,” said Castaneda. “Whether it’s help with disability claims, access to temporary loans, a quiet place to study, an opportunity to network with fellow vets, it’s where you can de-stress and feel at home.”
For many SAC veteran students, who are utilizing their veteran benefits to access higher education, the VRC becomes their sanctuary on campus. Last year, there were 2,189 veterans enrolled in classes at Santa Ana College. Of those, 619 utilized the services of the VRC.
To raise funds to provide needed services for these returning veterans, Santa Ana College is hosting a Soldiers to Scholars Wine Tasting on Thursday, November 13 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the Santora Building, 207 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, CA 92701.
According to the Center for American Progress report, Easing the Transition from Combat to Classroom, some strategies work to keep veterans in school. They include specialized orientation programs, helping veterans connect with one another, training faculty and staff on challenges veterans face and offering more counseling and financial aid.
The college’s Veteran Resource Center (VRC) provides the following services:
- Access to a Certifying Official to assist veterans with accessing Veterans Assistance (VA) educational benefits,
- Specialized academic counseling to develop educational plans to meet VA benefit requirements,
- Customized orientation and academic skills workshops for veterans, and
- Quiet study area with access to computers, the Internet and a printer.
Other programs and services available to veterans through the VRC include: priority registration, accommodations for veterans with disabilities, distance learning, Board of Governors fee waivers, in-state tuition waivers, access to the college's child development centers, work study/campus job opportunities, and health and wellness services. Strength in Support (SIS), a non-profit organization, provides free mental health support to active duty service members, veterans and their families in the SAC VRC. Services provided by SIS include individual, couples, family, and or group therapy. SIS therapists help students deal with isolation, PTSD, depression, substance abuse, anxiety, educational problems, marital issues, and the long process of transitioning back to “normal” life at home, enabling veterans to reintegrate as smoothly as possible into an educational setting.
The Soldiers to Scholars event will include live music, French wine and complementary food pairings, and non-alcoholic beverages. Reservations are available for $100 per person; corporate sponsorships range from $1,000 to $10,000. The event is sponsored by Bank of the West Commercial Banking. For more information and to purchase tickets, contact (714) 564-6095.
About Santa Ana College
Santa Ana College (SAC), which will turn 100 years old in 2015, serves about 18,000 students each semester at its main campus in Santa Ana. The college prepares students for transfer to four-year institutions, provides invaluable workforce training, and customized training for business and industry. In addition, another 10,000 students are served through the college’s School of Continuing Education located at Centennial Education Center. Ranked as one of the nation’s top two-year colleges awarding associate degrees to Latino and Asian students, the college is also recognized throughout the state for its comprehensive workforce training programs for nurses, firefighters, law enforcement and other medical personnel. SAC is one of two comprehensive colleges under the auspices of the Rancho Santiago Community College District.
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