What originally began as a “coffee social” in 2008 has officially become the Clayton State University Veterans Resource Center (VRC).
Under the direction of Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Brian Haynes, the University held the grand opening and ribbon-cutting for the VRC today. While the event marked a significant milestone for Clayton State’s 400+ student veterans, it was also the culmination of many notable events and efforts at the University over the past four years. Many of those initiatives were the direct result of a tremendous amount of dedication and work by the student veterans’ best advocate on the Clayton State staff, Associate Director and Training Coordinator of Counseling and Psychological Services Shiraz Karaa.
“The first few meeting were called ‘coffee socials’ but they served to bring together the students for academic and peer support and, ultimately, to form the Student Veterans Association,” Karaa said recently. “I had also been talking to service members coming to counseling for integrating into the civilian world and adjusting to college after the military. The vision was to have something similar to the USO on campus to serve the unique needs of student veterans transitioning from the military to higher education. These students’ numbers were increasing as they returned to use GI Benefits for college education.”
In keeping with Karaa’s vision for the VRC, the speakers at today’s ceremony emphasized the unique needs of student veterans, as well as their contributions to both the nation and the University. Clayton State President Dr. Thomas J. Hynes specifically thanked the members of the University’s Veterans Task Force, and, like Karaa, noted the importance of the G.I. Bill to both veterans and higher education.
“The Veterans Resource Center is part of our saying `thank you,’” he added.
Brigadier General (Ret.) Robert L. “Steve” Stephens, Clayton State vice president for external relations and executive assistant to the president, noted the importance of veterans on campus, and added that we should work all year long to take care of veterans, and not just on Veterans Day.
“Veterans need to get help and counseling when they return from the service,” he said. “Today, we are united in recognizing and respecting veterans.
“(The Veterans Resource Center) is a great start for our student veterans.”
Edwin Starks, president of the Clayton State Student Veterans Association, noted that the VRC will help many student veterans in some very basic ways.
“Student veterans may not understand how to transverse higher education,” he pointed out. “They need to know who to ask for help. The Veterans Resource Center will facilitate this and will be a source of information, as well as being a safe haven where we can speak our vernacular.
“The mission of supporting veterans never ends. We must press on until every student veteran feels the embrace of all of the campus.”
Concluding the opening ceremonies were Commander Tony Dobbins of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars and student veteran Valerie Lewis, who served in the U.S. Army and the Georgia Army National Guard from 2001 to 2009, and is a veteran of tours of duty in both Afghanistan (March 2002 - October 2002) and Iraq (January 2004 - January 2005). Dobbins presented Hynes with a $400 contribution for the Veterans Resource Center and Lewis presented the president with an American flag that flew in Afghanistan during her tour of duty there.
Karaa, who is also serving as the interim director of the VRC, says that the VRC will offer a centralized venue regarding veteran information and resources and will also provide veterans with a sense of camaraderie and peer support. The VRC will provide referrals for on campus services as well as referrals to VA facilities and local military support. There will also be information available for new students at orientation, postings for employment opportunities, events, and a place to meet and study with other veterans and military students.
Clayton State was named a Top Military-Friendly University in October 2010 by Military Advanced Education magazine, a publication that targets military and military education office personnel, government employees, higher education institutions, the Pentagon, and the White House.
Clayton State received a $20,000 grant from the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, represented at the grand opening by Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, and former Clayton State Registrar, Tonya Lam, to establish the VRC.