EdCC campaign supports its student military veterans

Higher education is a door to the future. For military veterans walking through that door, college comes on the heels of experiences not shared by other students.

Veterans arrive on campus with unique challenges but also strong assets, gained through the demands of duty.

At Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood, a campaign called “Boots to Books and Beyond” is nearing its goal to raise $1 million to provide help on campus for student veterans.

Launched by the Edmonds Community College Foundation, the fund drive aims to support student veterans suffering visible and invisible wounds, to provide an inviting place where they can talk and find information, to offer academic and employment help, and to create an endowment for scholarships.

Boots to Books and Beyond has raised more than $870,000, said Jean Hernandez, EdCC president, in a statement released last week. “The goal is to complete the campaign in November to commemorate Veterans Day,” she said.

“Veterans are a very interesting population. I’m one of them,” said Chris Szarek, director of the EdCC Veterans Resource Center, which is on the second floor of Lynnwood Hall on campus. “Many have gone through a lot of experiences that the general population hasn’t. That can make it difficult to relate to people in college.”

Szarek, 43, served 20 years with the U.S. Navy Seabees, the naval construction force. The military took him to Whidbey Island, California, Italy, Spain, Guam, Cuba, and finally a naval support unit attached to the U.S. State Department.

He got out of the military in 2009 and lived with his parents near EdCC while awaiting admission to the University of Washington. He attended EdCC for a quarter, then earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s in business administration at UW.

“In the military, at a very young age, some were in leadership positions and also very stressful positions. They’re often very well traveled. People have said they feel maybe 23 or 24 going on 40,” Szarek said.

Although veterans have a wealth of skills, “it can be very difficult to find a job when you get out,” Szarek said. “It’s difficult to explain to an employer what you’ve done because you don’t speak the same language.”

Hernandez will meet visitors at an event next week at the Veterans Resource Center. There will be refreshments and tours of the center from 2 to 3:30 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. on Oct. 20, and a chance to donate.

Larry Price believes one of the toughest tasks for veterans is deciding what to do with the rest of their lives. Now an administrator at EdCC, he served 20 years in the Marine Corps.

After the Marines, he worked as facilities manager for the Marysville School District. Using his G.I. Bill education benefits and going to night school, he earned a master’s in business administration at Columbia College and a master’s degree in continuing education at Western Washington University.

Price now meets for lunch monthly with a group called Marine For Life, which helps veterans network and find jobs. Typically there are about 60 people there, half of them mentors and half job seekers.

“There’s a very simple question that’s very hard for them,” Price said. “What do you want to do and where do you want to do it? If they can answer those questions, they can put together a plan. A great way to help with those answers is to go back to school.”

Helping students understand and obtain veteran benefits is one big goal at the resource center.

At 75, retired EdCC faculty member and Navy veteran Clark Silliman even found help there. Silliman, who attended the UW School of Law after serving in Vietnam, taught in EdCC’s paralegal program before retiring in June.

When the EdCC veterans center opened, Silliman began spending time there. He talked with students who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan. “A lot of them suffer from PTSD. The vet center at the college has a quiet room,” he said.

Silliman, who was in the Navy from 1961 to 1965, served in Vietnam on the USS Tillamook, an ocean-going tug assigned to coastal patrol.

At the Veterans Resource Center, Silliman had help in researching evidence that his vessel had been in an Agent Orange exposure area. “The VA finally acknowledged I was exposed,” Silliman said. He suffers from health issues he believes are linked to the herbicide and defoliant used by the U.S. government in Vietnam, and he is now in the process of determining whether he qualifies for compensation.

“I was networking with other vets at the center and told them my story. I didn’t think to do this research myself,” Silliman said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Event at EdCC

The Edmonds Community College Foundation is close to a $1 million goal to support student veterans through its “Boots to Books and Beyond” campaign. The EdCC Veterans Resource Center will host an event Oct. 20 for visitors to learn about the center and the fund drive.

The Oct. 20 event includes cookies and coffee, 2-3:30 p.m., and wine and cheese, 5-7 p.m., at the Veterans Resource Center, second floor Lynnwood Hall, Edmonds Community College, 20000 68th Ave. W., Lynnwood. For more information, go to www.edcc.edu/foundation/veterans or call 425-640-1512.

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