Veterans to receive assistance, camaraderie via proposed centers

Organization to provide college with $50,000 to find, furnish area on campus for service members, possible club

By Cody Casares, Photo Editor

Veterans attending classes at Contra Costa College will soon have their own designated center to receive assistance during their time on campus.

A proposed amount of $50,000 will be used for outfitting a Veteran’s Center at every college in the district, provided each college meets certain criteria, Mike Conklin, CEO of Sentinels of Freedom said.

In a recent press release from the Sentinels of Freedom, it states that 85 percent of the funds needed to outfit the three new Veteran’s Centers at Diablo Valley, Los Medanos and Contra Costa colleges has been raised already. The DVC and LMC centers are scheduled to be completed this year while CCC’s center will be completed in 2016, pending the construction.

Sentinels of Freedom, provides scholarships for severely injured veterans in order to assist them financially while they pursue higher levels of education after separation from the armed forces.

“The money comes with certain criteria, (CCC) must provide an acceptable space, not a corner of a basement somewhere, in perpetuity,” Conklin said.

“We will provide $25,000 of on-hand funds and through outside fundraising provide an additional $25,000 per college for the express purpose of outfitting and furnishing the Veteran’s Centers,” said Conklin. “It gives veterans a place of their own to decompress, collaborate, and provide sanctuary.”

The college must also have a veteran’s association or club on campus with a clear mission statement, that is veteran run, has a veteran student adviser and must commit to one substantial community-based project a year assisting the community in some way, Conklin said.

The process began when DVC student veteran Brad Vargas reached out to the Sentinels of Freedom last spring for assistance in acquiring a designated space where veterans could receive academic and benefit counseling specific to veterans, Ryan Kellei, DVC student and Marine Corps veteran, said.

“We showed (Sentinels of Freedom) our plan to establish a space for veterans, and the Sentinels stood behind us,” Kellei said. “We don’t even have a corner.”

While it is still early in the process, progress is being made toward meeting the criteria.

Interim president Mojdeh Mehdizadeh has already met with several other college administrators including Bruce King, Buildings and Grounds manager, and has chosen a location for the newly planned Veteran’s Center.

The new center will be approximately 700-800 square feet, Mehdizadeh said, and will be located in the newly constructed administration building, when it is completed.

“While CCC’s veteran population is around 85 students currently using GI Bill educational benefits, the college is looking to expand that number with the new Veteran’s Center.

Conklin said while the Veteran’s Centers will provide veterans students an established place to answer questions regarding their benefits they will also enable veterans to communicate throughout the district.