On any given day, 30 or more veterans make their way through Stan State's Student Veteran Center for a cup of coffee, to study or just shoot the breeze with fellow veterans.
“The whole transition is a challenge in itself from leaving the military, rejoining the civilian world and finding your community,” said Guillermo Solorio, a junior psychology major from Merced, who spent six years in the U.S. Army. “This space provided that — finding people who also served.”
Showing non-veterans the value of the space is behind this year’s Veterans Day observance. The Stan State Veterans Club will host an open house from 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. on Nov. 6 in the office, located in room 113 of the Student Services Building. Cards will be shared that feature the thoughts of campus community members about the impact of veterans on their lives.
For post-9-11 veterans, a group represented widely by the Stan State veteran population, the Student Veteran Center is a place to be celebrated, and not just on a designated holiday.
For veterans like Solorio, or Lambert Adi, who served two years in the Navy and another 21 in the Army, the center is more than a “safe” place, with its comfortable lounge area, computer lab, tables, a refrigerator and microwave oven.
“I miss (being in the military) every day,” Adi said. “Friends in the classroom really don’t understand the military, so you can’t really talk to them. And when you do say stuff, you have to be really careful about the way you talk. Coming here, hanging out, having coffee with guys is like being on the base with my soldiers. You can be who you are, talk the way you talk and nobody takes offense to it.”
There’s “no sympathy and no filter here,” said veterans affairs coordinator Chicago Houdek, an Arizona native who served six years in the Navy.
The center is more than a social club for veterans.
“We are a one-stop shop of service providers, so we offer everything from admissions assistance to advising to benefits counseling,” Houdek said. “We provide a full range of services and explanations on all veteran benefits and also dependent benefits. We assist with a numerous amount of VA forms. We are also a space where veterans, dependents and regular students can get together and do group work.”
Houdek, who arrived at Stan State in 2015, previously helped veterans with admissions at his alma mater, Arizona State. Now he helps with admissions at Stanislaus, but he’s also willing to navigate the choppy waters of the Veterans Administration to help both vets, and their dependents, receive what is owed them.
“We help a lot of veterans who are jaded or disenfranchised by the VA and don’t want to deal with paperwork, don’t want to deal with the phone system,” Houdek said.
Returning veterans are not like traditional students, Houdek points out.
“Usually they come back married or with kids and they’re making mortgage payments,” Houdek said. “When they come to school, they’re not living the full college experience. They’re not joining fraternities, participating in on-campus events, sporting events. They are coming to school in between jobs. It’s a way to advance further in their careers, to make more money. Those are the rougher challenges.”
The Student Veteran Center helps navigate those challenges every day, and the campus is invited to see how on Nov. 6.