MCLA gives vets a place of their own - the Veterans Resource Center


Photo Gallery | MCLA Veterans Resource Center

NORTH ADAMS -- A new space at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts aims to give more support to a fast-growing student population -- veterans.

A gold ribbon to the college's new Veterans Resource Center was cut during a well-attended ceremony on Wednesday in Venable Hall.

The opening was an exciting event for student veterans like Brian Nelson, a business major concentrating in marketing and member of the Class of 2015.

"With the opening of the [center], we now have a space to get together, work together, support each other, and a place that we use to get back together," Nelson said.

Nelson, a Navy veteran, was one of many in a committee formed to establish the center as part of the college's strategic plan, Associate Dean of Students Theresa O'Bryant said.

Approximately two dozen matriculated students currently receive veterans benefits, O'Bryant said, adding there are additional students who receive their parents' benefits.

"We've asked these individuals to put their lives on the line, and we have to find ways to do a better job of supporting them when they return home," President Mary Grant said.

The ceremony was attended by numerous college community members, as well as North Adams Mayor Richard J. Alcombright, state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, a representative of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, and Undersecretary of Veterans Services Coleman Nee.

The center on the third floor of Venable Hall will be open to veterans, military personnel, and students receiving benefits from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. The space features several computer workstations, a television, contact information for local resources, and a coffee maker. Donated flags and a framed world map, the latter a gift from the American Legion Post 152 of Williamstown, hang on the walls.

The ceremony comes on the heels of Gov. Deval Patrick's signing of an updated Valor Act, which increases the scope of the bill passed in 2012. The new legislation, dubbed Valor Act II, provides additional property tax relief and enhances educational, health care and employment support services for veterans.

The act will allow students currently enrolled in college who are called to active duty to either complete their coursework without penalty following duty, or to withdraw and receive a tuition refund.

"Student veterans are really unique in that they are the fastest segment of our student population statewide," Nee said. "The opportunities that exist here in the Commonwealth have really attracted that population, not just from Massachusetts natives, but from all across the country."

Nee, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who served during Operation Desert Storm, noted the student population pathway has been different -- some may be older than traditional freshmen and have had different experiences, he noted. Those experiences can enrich other students' classroom experience.

"You've also made sacrifices and [suffered] wounds, some visible and some hidden," he added. "It is our fervent desire ... to make sure you get the treatment for those wounds. Having a Veterans Resource Center here on campus, having a place where veterans can gather ... is a huge first step."

To reach Edward Damon:
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On Twitter: @BE_EDamon


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