Dinner for veterans highlights JSC’s outreach initiatives


Deb Bouton

Hyde Park VFW Commander Tom Hemenway delivered brief remarks at the ceremony

As part of its ongoing efforts to ramp up services for armed forces veterans, Johnson State College celebrated Veterans Day this year by hosting a dinner for veterans and other community members who wished to honor them.

“I think it was a great success,” said Dave Bergh, JSC’s dean of students and chair of the Veterans’ Student Support Committee. “We had about 50 or so folks from the community and the feedback we got was really very positive.”

Before the dinner got underway, Tom Hemenway, commander of the Hyde Park chapter of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), stood at the podium and asked the veterans in the room to raise their hands as he named the wars they fought in.

“There were two hands that went up for WWII,” said Hemenway. “Two or three hands that went up for Korea. Most of them went up for the Vietnam era folks, like myself. Then we had more people in the post-9/11 [wars]. The reason I’m mentioning this is that the membership in the Veterans of Foreign Wars is declining. I know young members, young veterans, kind of say ‘Look, I’ve got things to do. I’ve got an education to get, got to raise my family, got to get two or three jobs to support them. I don’t have time.’ Maybe you don’t have an interest because you don’t know what it’s all about.

“I just want to tell you,” continued Hemenway, “Veterans of Foreign Wars is not that place up on the hill where all the old guys go up there and drink beer and tell war stories. It’s not what we’re about. We are very community oriented. We remember and we respect our dead by serving the living, but we need your help. If membership in organizations like the American Legion, like Veterans of Foreign Wars, if it continues to decrease, when our people up on Capitol Hill are trying to decide where to cut money, where do they do it? Veterans. If we don’t have representation up there we’re going to lose. Eventually, younger people, you’re going to want these benefits. They might not exist. Give us some serious consideration.”

The dinner not only represented an opportunity for the college to honor veterans in the community, but also a chance for other community members to honor them as well. Second grade students from Hyde Park Elementary made cards for the veterans, which were placed on every table.
Sodexo, the company which provides food service for the college, provided all the food free of charge. Students from SERVE, the college’s community engagement program, volunteered to serve dinner. “I really have a lot of respect and appreciation for students who jumped in,” said Bergh. “They were really well received. Folks loved them.”

In her address at the dinner, JSC President Elaine Collins emphasized the efforts that the college makes to accommodate student veterans, military connected students, as well as veterans in the larger community.

JSC is designated as a “military friendly school,” and according to President Collins for good reason. This semester JSC opened a Veteran’s Center intended to give student veterans a space to relax, study, and network with their peers. The college’s curriculum also now includes “To War and Back,” a course open to both veterans and non-veterans alike, which focuses on the experience of veterans.

The college also provides special support for veterans and their families in a variety of ways: The application fee is waived; the $200 tuition deposit upon enrollment is waived; up to $6,000 in tuition benefits are offered to military spouses under the federal MyCAA program — commonly referred to as tuition assistance for spouses; and the college provides access to veteran scholarships.

According to Bergh, the college also hopes to become a place for veterans in the community to access some of their basic services. “We really want to see the college become a resource for veterans in the area,” said Bergh. “One of the things we’ve learned about Lamoille County is that veterans who live in the area generally have to go to White River or to Burlington in order to get services. We’re looking at how can we be a place, a hub of some of these services.”

According the Bergh, the event was well received. “One of the participants wrote a note on front-porch forum the next day thanking the college and the VFW for putting it together. So, it’s something I think we’re going to build on,” said Bergh. “We had such a good time. We’ll plan on doing it again next year. I think President Collins kind of committed us to that at the event, indicating that this would be the ‘first annual,’ so that’s great. We’ll look forward to this as an opportunity to continue to build the relationship between the campus and the veteran community.”

At the dinner, Collins was unequivocal in her support for veterans and their families. “All of us here at the college,” she said, “owe you a tremendous debt—and to your families—both who have helped to protect and sustain our important liberties, such as an access to education.”