Plenty of opportunities are available for members of the military who have been discharged and are preparing for their next phase of life, though it can be difficult to know exactly where to turn. Making those resources easier to find was the goal for a gathering of local veteran service providers held in April at Central Carolina Community College.
“There are so many organizations that support veterans, but a lot of times, we don’t know about each other,” said Dr. Jen Servi-Roberts, who directs Veterans Upward Bound at the college and helped organize the event. “This was a chance to bring a lot of these organizations together, so we can see how we can best serve veterans.”
Formal presentations began after a short breakfast with an overview of what the college provides. That focused on Veterans Upward Bound, a federally-funded initiative giving veterans the academic and practical skills they need for success when preparing for college.
Servi-Roberts and assistant director Anthony Farrior operate one of only about 60 Veterans Upward Bound programs nationwide. They took about 20 minutes to describe the sweeping portfolio of counseling, academic, tuition, mentoring and other services they provide free of charge for veterans living in Chatham, Harnett, Johnston, Lee and Wake counties.
The end of the event gave everyone attending, either in the room or virtually, the chance to share what their organizations offer for veterans. And, even more importantly, gave everyone time to meet each other and look for ways they can work together.
But the most important moments came in between, when Yazmin and Joshua Risano, a couple participating in Veterans Upward Bound, gave a testimony of sorts — explaining how the program changed their lives.
Yazmin was planning for a long career in the military until she incurred a disability just three years into her service and received a medical discharge. Facing surgeries and physical therapy was difficult enough, but Yazmin also had no idea where her life was headed. That’s when someone connected her to Veterans Upward Bound, where she got the help she needed to prepare for college and a new career.
Now, she is attending Campbell University and preparing for a move to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she plans to pursue a degree in mental health and, eventually, a career in counseling veterans.
“Veterans Upward Bound really helped me network, connect and find my purpose when I thought I didn’t have one anymore,” she told the group. “I am really thankful for that.”
Joshua was in the Army before he started looking for a new career. He started thinking about construction, something he did in the service, but then shifted into welding. But he found his true passion when a Veterans Upward Bound staff member introduced him to lasers and photonics.
“When I saw the lasers, I fell in love with them,” he recalled. “As a forward observer, I used to use laser range finders all the time and I was very intrigued by how an actual laser works. Knowing nothing from lasers and going into that program was really great and life changing.”
Joshua says he now maintains a 3.8 grade point average and expects to graduate this semester with an associate degree, welding diploma, robotic welding certificate and electrical engineering certificate.
Participants in the session gave a loud round of applause for the couple, which seemed to reinforce one of the goals Servi-Roberts had for this two-hour gathering. “I wanted attendees to understand what Veterans Upward Bound offers and how successful we have been in the past supporting our veterans,” she said. “Also, I wanted participants to have an opportunity to network with other veteran-serving organizations, so we can build a stronger referral network in our area.”
Learn more about the Veterans Upward Bound program at www.cccc.edu/trio/veterans/.