Corporate sponsors are being sought to help underwrite the costs associated with the construction of a Veterans Tribute Garden at Kalamazoo Valley Community College's Texas Township Campus. The garden will include bricks inscribed with the names of servicemen and women and corporate donors.
So far, $5,700 has been raised. A goal of $40,000 has been set, but construction will begin once $20,000 has been committed to the project, according to Elizabeth Lyons, Director of Veteran Services at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. There are four levels of sponsorship starting at $500.
The project was proposed last year by a group of student veterans who were looking for a way to honor their comrades. It is targeted for development outside of the Student Commons Theater. Organizers expect the garden to appeal to Kalamazoo County area veterans and their families as well as those who appreciate the sacrifices made by current or previous servicemen and women.
Area corporations and community members are invited to be a part of the project by purchasing bricks that may be engraved with their loved ones' name and branch of service.
Lyons said the garden is just one part of the college's emphasis on serving the community's veterans. "Kalamazoo Valley is committed to supporting and encouraging veterans' success, whether they are discharged veterans, still serving on active duty, or in the Reserves or the Guard," she said. "The Veteran Services office can assist veterans with access to resources at the college and in the community. I am here to help make the transition back to school successful. There is a strong initiative going on here to be vet-friendly. We are expanding our services for veterans, including a new student vet-to-vet mentorship program and a specialized orientation for incoming student veterans. We have a large veteran population. Helping them smoothly transition to an educational environment is the least we can do."
The college has an active Student Veterans of America chapter and Lyons serves as its advisor. The group meets twice a month and explores topics like job training and interview techniques. Lyons is also offering new services to help veterans make the transition from military life to the classroom. New classes on finances, relationships and employment are planned. A new checklist has also been created for student veterans to ensure that they’re on track to access all of the resources that might benefit them.
In addition to Lyons, U.S. Air Force Veteran Brent Haddow works to assist student veterans on campus. He runs the VetSuccess on Campus office at Kalamazoo Valley, dividing his time between Kalamazoo Valley, Western Michigan University and Kellogg Community College. He assists veterans with vocational rehabilitation and questions related to military benefits.
Student advocates, financial aid assistants, counselors, career and employment advisors and other staff members have also been pulled together to make up the college's Veterans Success Team and the college has been named a Military and Veteran Friendly Campus by G.I. Jobs. "We are a vet friendly campus," Lyons said. "We're working hard to be responsive to their needs. We understand that veterans may need additional assistance in transitioning to college. I really see that we're there every step of the way to help them."
Lyons, who has worked for Kalamazoo Valley since August 2012, said she enjoys her job, in part because she extensively collaborates with both students and colleagues from all areas of the college and community.
She is anxious to see the Veterans Tribute Garden take shape. "The garden will be a visual representation of our commitment to our veterans – a way to say we recognize your sacrifice and we appreciate it," Lyons said. "It will also serve as a place where a serviceman or woman can go to reflect on their time in the service or the loss of their own comrades."
For more information or to donate to the garden, contact Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org, 269.488.4873, or go to www.kvcc.edu/foundation or www.kvcc.edu/veterans.