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EMCC Veteran’s Club Builds Bridge To Local Community: Launches Support for Homeless Veterans

By Monica Garcia
Veterens

You may be sitting at home while reading this article, but to the over 1,600 homeless veterans in Arizona, there is not a home to go back to.

20 percent of homeless individuals in Arizona are veterans, according to USVetsInc.org., an issue that the Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) Veteran’s Club takes to heart.

The Veteran’s Club was signed into action at the beginning of October but has already started an initiative that will greatly help veterans in the community.

“We hit the ground running, that’s for sure,” says Thomas Koch, President of the Veteran’s Club.

Maryhelen Rosales, Co-Advisor of the Veteran’s Club and former Air Force veteran, came to the Veteran’s Club with a plan to help local veterans. Rosales had been searching for a way to give  back to the veteran community.

The United States Veteran’s Initiative is a non-profit, statewide organization that provides assistance for military veterans and their families through housing, counseling, career development and support.

The organization located in Phoenix started renovating an existing hotel in order to provide housing for veterans. These veterans are often homeless and have no other place to go.

Money for the renovations are made with donations. $2,000 helps U.S. Veterans completely renovate a room, and any donations help provide materials for renovations.

The Veteran’s Club jumped straight into planning in order to raise these funds. 

“Initially,” Rosales said, “when [the Veteran’s Club] was looking for officers they weren’t even looking for a treasurer because they didn’t want to raise any money for the club itself - but wanted to give back to the community.”

Two major goals of the Veteran’s Club are to make other veteran students at EMCC aware of resources and how to utilize them, and secondly to give back to the veteran community. Inspired by Empty Bowl Events for World Food Day, Rosales thought, “Why can't we do something like that for veterans?”

So the Veteran’s Club sprang into action. The plan was to decorate bowls and receive cash donations for them. The Veteran’s Club, however, didn’t have any funds to start off with. They reached out to the community and worked with local veteran organizations. They met with the President and Treasurer of the VFW Chapter #40 in Avondale, who donated $100 on the spot in order for the club to purchase bowls.

With a bit of a laugh, Rosales commented, “And so we went to a few 99¢ stores and  just bought them out of plain white bowls!”

Within that week, the club had everything prepared for the Paint-A-Bowl event. Held in the Plaza Gallery, the club allowed students and faculty to decorate their own bowls at no cost. “There was a ton of support from the instructors and students,” said Koch.

Those who took part in the event were able to donate or pay for the bowls if they wanted to keep them. Rosales mentioned that “there were even students that gave whatever money they had out of their pocket just to donate to the cause.”

The event raised around $1000, with donations even as high as $50.

Other donations came in from the community as well.

Adolfo Gámez, Mayor of Tolleson, worked with his organization  Hispanic Leader Forum del Oeste, Inc., and donated a $500 check. The owners of Avondale’s Auggie’s Sports Grill and Honey Baked Ham store also made donations to the cause. And Dysart High School’s Art Club reached out and donated more bowls to the Veteran’s Club.

After the Paint a Bowl Event, the Veteran’s Club is currently only $500 short of its goal. During the whole project, Rosales and Koch agree that there was amazing support from the Avondale community.

And despite only starting, the Veteran’s Club has built a network through this huge response, all willing and wanting to help the club next year, as Rosales says they will have a similar project to help the Veteran’s community.

“What we want to do,” Koch says about the Veteran’s Club, “is to make sure that Vets are aware of what is available in the local community, to have resources available for their futures, and to help with job search, resume building —  just the basic transition from military life to civilian life. Because we all speak the same lingo.”

On Veteran’s Day the club got together and went downtown to the Veteran’s Hospital and spent the day with the veterans staying there. “We spoke to a lot of them, pushed them to the parade that goes past the hospital.” Koch remembers it was a “pretty moving experience for all of us.” 

Not only has the Veteran’s Club followed its goals in making resources available for veteran students at EMCC and giving back to the veteran community, it has also built a community in the club and a sense of camaraderie.

“The major thing is that we’ve all formed a special bond and we’re all friends,” Rosales says. “What’s nice is that everybody understands what the other person is talking about, like what Tom says —we speak the same lingo.”

The Veteran’s Club meets every Friday at noon to eat lunch and “shoot the breeze” as both Rosales and Koch describe. “Members are from all branches of the military— and from all walks of life.”

The Veteran’s Club is always looking for more veteran students to be involved with the community.

For more information, please visit: http://www.estrellamountain.edu/students/veterans-services/emcc-veterans...