Veteran Center finds a new home

The Veterans Center for Johnson State College has found a new location in Dewey, in the space that once belonged to the Mountaintop Market.

It was moved from its old location in what is now the advising and registrar’s office upon the closing of the convenience store.

“We’ve long been looking for a location for a dedicated space for veterans on campus…it was only last year that we were finally able to realize the possibility of a dedicated space on campus,” said Dave Bergh, the dean of student life and college relations.

“At this point it is for veterans only,” said Tammy Goss, assistant registrar and certifying official. “From all the research that we’ve looked at, that seems to be a really big thing for veterans to have that safe space that they can go to, and connect with other veterans, and be able to talk to other veterans that are going to understand the lingo that they’re talking in, and not have to stop and explain everything to other people. And that’s what they’re looking for.”

The decision to move the Veterans Center comes after the creation of the new advising and registrar’s office in Dewey. “That was to combine advising and the registrar’s office to better serve students,” said Bergh.

One of the deciding factors in moving this office space was to allow for better office hours. “It was not an ideal space for a few reasons,” said Bergh, “the main one being that the door to it was an interior door, so in order to access that space…they had to go through another office to get to that space, it didn’t have its own access.”

That meant veterans and military-connected students wouldn’t be able to access their space if the registrar’s office was closed.
This new location is much better in terms of availability, because it is open as long as Dewey is open. What this means for the veterans center is there are now no office hours dictated by another office. “[It] doesn’t need to be staffed or overseen. That’s in essence why they’ve ended up in this space,” said Bergh.
And now that there is a dedicated space on campus for veterans, new initiatives are in place, one of which is a new class. This course, called “To War and Back,” is now a part of the permanent core course catalog.

The 2015 fall semester is the second fall semester this class has been offered. “It’s actually an awesome class if you get the chance to take it,” said Goss. The class, currently taught by Bob Warren from the behavioral sciences department, has been very well received.

“We were able to do some of this work through some grant support we received from the Vermont Community Federation” said Bergh.
In addition to this new class, the newer initiatives for the Veterans Center have now been expanded to include streamlining admission materials for veterans to ensure an easier process to access their benefits through the application process and coming to JSC.

“We’re also trying to do a lot more to build awareness through programming. So both having events that speak to the veteran experience, but also having opportunities to recognize and celebrate veterans” said Bergh.

The initiatives are partially overseen by Goss, who is involved with the veterans on campus in her additional capacity of certifying official. “Being the VA certifying official for Johnson means that, every semester, anybody who is using G.I Bill benefits, has to check in with me,” said Goss. “Whether it be over the phone, or coming in, in person to make sure that they’re scheduled for stuff that’s going to complete requirements. And then I interact with the federal [agencies]…to let them know that they are in fact, students here, and what they’re registered for, so that they can access their G.I Bill benefits.”

This Veterans Center could, in the future, aid more than just the veterans attending JSC. Services could be expanded to cover the surrounding county as well.

“Lamoille County tends to be an underserved area in terms of veterans accessing their benefits,” said Bergh. “In part that’s just because we’re pretty far from the main. White River or Burlington really are the places veterans from this area have to travel to get services.”

Goss, who has contacts with the VFW in Hyde Park where she used to bartend, would also like to see more veteran outreach. “We’re trying to hopefully start branching out more into the community to be able to also work with veterans in the community,” she said.
Starting this year, there will hopefully be a committee focused on serving the veterans, one that will have more sustained student membership than it did in previous years, according to Bergh. “I really think at this point, in terms of the next steps going forward, those really need to be informed by our veteran students and to hear from them in terms of what their needs are. So that’s what we’re committed to doing next,” said Bergh.