By Kevin Bass
CCC Journalism Program
BLACKWOOD – It’s been one year since the ribbon cutting ceremony that officially opened the Veterans Lounge on Camden County College’s Blackwood campus. The school’s student veterans are still enjoying every second of it.
A chilly October day on campus is instantly warmed by the welcoming smiles of veterans occupying the lounge in Room 202A in the Otto R. Mauke Community Center. Between classes, they can be found studying on the sofa, preparing a snack in the microwave or working diligently on one of the lounge’s two computers. The lounge also gives them access to a printer, coffee machine and refrigerator. It’s getting plenty of use. Many of the vets say they love dropping by just to enjoy the camaraderie of fellow veterans.
The idea to provide a private area to student veterans seeking a place to find peace and comfort while on campus stemmed from the Veteran Services Center in Room 303 of Taft Hall on CCC’s Blackwood campus. The center was established by The Troops to College Act, enacted by the New Jersey State Senate and General Assembly on Sept. 13, 2009. It focuses on providing a smooth transition for United States veterans into New Jersey’s colleges and universities.
“Our department offers a wide variety of services to the college’s veterans,” said Patricia Devlin, assistant veteran services adviser whose father served in the United States Air Force.
She beamed with enthusiasm and pride as she outlined many of the program’s benefits. The center works as a one-stop shop, helping veterans take advantage of the resources available to them through their years of military service. The staff helps them with the application and registration process. Veterans also receive education benefit counseling, tuition and scholarship assistance, tutoring services, career planning and academic advisement, along with access to a licensed social worker who can support them in any challenges they may face while converting back to civilian life.
“The center is currently serving over 300 veterans this semester,” Devlin said.
The campus staff is trained to recognize the specific needs and concerns of past and current military personnel. They utilize an open door policy, welcoming student veterans with open arms and treating them with the utmost respect.
Dom Howe, student veteran and former operations specialist in the United States Marine Corps, stops by the Veteran Services Center frequently just to say hello. “The staff here is a huge help,” Howe said.
The center caters to all student veterans, spouses or dependents using their VA Education Benefits. The Montgomery GI Bill, Selected Reserves and the Post 9/11 GI Bill are among a handful of packages available to the veterans. These benefits cover many of the student’s bills for tuition and books while some even offer an additional stipend for other expenses.