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Community Works to Support Veterans' Education

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Mary Helen Armstrong and Mike McNitt meet with Veterans at Cañada College.

Mary Helen Armstrong and Mike McNitt meet with Veterans at Cañada College.

Friday, November 4, 2011

It takes a village, or in this case, a community. The Menlo Park Rotary--working with community businesses, Cañada College and VA staff--have come together for the benefit of our Veterans and their education.

Last March, Margie Carrington, Director of Financial Aid Services at Cañada College in Redwood City, opened up a V-ROC (Veteran Resource & Opportunity Center) to support Veterans attending the college. "The V-ROC is a Veterans-only area on campus where they can meet one another, do homework on our three computers, get advice about their benefits on Tuesdays when we have our "Eat and Greet" luncheons, or just take a much needed coffee break," Carrington explained.

What the college didn't have, however, was a way to pay for the luncheons, pay for the paper in the printers, pay for snacks, pay for the satellite TV, and even pay for cleaning supplies. On the scene come Mike McNitt and Mary Helen Armstrong from the Menlo Park Rotary, who contacted Carrington to find out how they could support Veterans attending the college.

"When we found out what the Cañada College was trying to do, we knew we had to help," said Armstrong. "We started asking local restaurants to provide food for the Tuesday luncheons, like Amicia's Pizza, and Safeway even gave us $1,000 to help with snacks, cleaning supplies, etc. The community businesses really wanted to support this initiative, too, but it's a constant effort to raise the money and we never want to let these Veterans down."

For the nearly 120 Veterans attending Cañada College, it was a place to relax and be with students who understood what being a Veteran meant. "We love it here," said one Iraq Veteran. "Most students have to pay for printing, we get it free here. But mostly it's a chance to connect. I even met one of my old combat buddies who really helped me get through the first year of school. Gave me lots of confidence. That went a long way to keeping me in school."

Additionally, the V-ROC is a place where VA can connect with Veterans as well. Every Tuesday for the Eat and Greet, Dustin Noll, from the Peninsula Vet Center, shows up just to talk and casually let the Veterans know about their benefits. He gets them connected to whoever can help them in the easiest way possible.

"This is an amazing group of people," said Marlene Specht, speech pathologist at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System, who also does Education Outreach. "Mike and Mary Helen have hearts of gold. They do all types of volunteering at the VA, too, but taking on the V-ROC just illustrates how much they care."

As we sat talking and eating pizza last Tuesday, Margie greeted a Veteran coming in to the V-ROC, "Welcome to Fantasy Island – with pizza!" The Veteran smiled, dropped his backpack on the floor and grabbed a coke and a couple slices of pizza. The other Veterans chided him for being late, but it was obvious he was welcomed and felt like being home.

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