Veterans now have a place to call their own with the opening of a resource center at the University of Hawaii Maui College, providing a venue to study, be tutored, network and - best of all - a place to bond with buddies.
Cody Snyder, a veteran and student at the college, said that when one talks to veterans, the one thing they usually say is they miss their brothers.
"This is one way of bringing the family back together," said Snyder, the president of the UH-Maui College Veterans Club, which he helped launch in January.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard greets retired Army Col. Lloyd Sodetani following Saturday morning’s dedication of the University of Hawaii Maui College Veterans Resource Center. Looking on (center) is Chelsea Fernandez, who serves as the Maui representative for the Governor’s Advisory Board on Veterans Services. Fernandez is also an Iraq War vet and student at the college. Gabbard lauded the efforts it took to open the center. “UH Maui College and the veterans here are leading the way in empowering our returning veterans,” Gabbard said. Sodetani said he hoped the center would help veterans of all ages to come together. “This is wonderful,” Sodetani said. “It is a positive step forward. Hopefully this will initiate stronger cohesiveness between other veterans in the community.”
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Dignitaries take part in Saturday’s opening ceremony for the Veterans Resource Center at the University of Hawaii Maui College. The center will offer quiet places to study as well as relax between classes.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
TULSI GABBARD, U.S. Rep.
The Veterans Resource Center was a club idea. It is the first veterans resource center at any UH campus, school officials said. The UH-Maui College campus is also on a list of military-friendly schools.
An estimated 100 to 150 veterans attend the Maui campus, with 20 of those students involved in the club.
The approximately 600-square-foot center on the eastern end of the college consists of a kitchenette, built-in computer desks and computers, and a study room. It will be a place for tutoring, counseling services and even be open to regular students and veterans in the community needing to study, such as preparing for police or firefighting employment exams. It will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
"I'm absolutely thrilled by the center," Snyder said early last week. "It feels like a place you can hang out."
A grand opening ceremony was held Saturday. Government officials and veteran leaders were in attendance, including Iraq War veteran and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who delivered the keynote address.
"UH-Maui College is showing leadership in Hawaii for providing necessary services and support for our returning veterans, active service members and their families," Gabbard said. "Mahalo to all those who had the vision and drive, and put in the hard work, to create this resource and make today's grand opening a reality. UH-MC is working hard to serve our next greatest generation, and their support will be invaluable as our troops transition back into civilian life, and find ways to continue their mission, contributing in service to our communities."
UH-Maui College Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs John McKee added that the opening of the center is an opportunity to express appreciation to the service members and the sacrifices they have made.
"It's also a day to celebrate the community effort that created this campus resource for student veterans. The center is a designated space where student veterans can network, receive academic support and have a welcoming place to help them achieve their academic, career and life goals," he said.
The center was put together with a $9,000 donation from the Home Depot Foundation and $5,000 from the Schwab Charitable Fund, Snyder said. Volunteers from the Home Depot Kahului store and the UH Veterans Club worked on the improvements and upgrades to the school's annex building where the resource center is housed.
Maui County Veterans Council President Paul Laub said the resource center will be valuable for veterans who are reintegrating into society because they will be able to speak to others about how to handle life situations that may be foreign to someone who spent years in the military.
"This allows these guys to get together and stay together and work together. One of the problems that we have is people reintegrating into civilian society. They don't even know what they need to know," Laub said prior to Saturday's ceremony.
Snyder said he hopes the center will get more veterans enrolled in college and use the GI Bill to advance their knowledge and careers.
After 10 years in the army as an Airborne Ranger, Snyder couldn't even get a job with a zip-line company when he came back to Maui five years ago. So he decided to go back to school on the government's money, and he also earns a paycheck if he gets good grades.
The 30-year-old Makawao resident and former staff sergeant in the 2nd Ranger Battalion is majoring in business entrepreneurship. He is also working on a dog-training and dog-handler business with an associate.
A life experience in the military also helped Snyder return to his studies.
As a young soldier in Afghanistan, one of his duties was to walk with and protect young girls who were going to school because religious fundamentalists there violently opposed education for girls, he said. The girls' lives were in danger.
Snyder didn't like academics and began his military training while in high school. His military service changed all of that.
"I was so moved by these young girls who were so brave," Snyder recalled. "I learned how valuable an education is, how much other people really wish to have an education. That's what really drove me to school."
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.