Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) Veterans Services Center caught the attention of a U.S. senator. Kyrsten Sinema, who represents Arizona in Washington, D.C., spent some quality time April 24 with veteran students who call the center home.
The students could not say enough good things about the myriad of services the center provides. In addition to assisting them with their VA education benefits, the center also provides transition support and connection to local community veteran resources.
“This is seriously my one-stop shop,” said Tonia Smith, an Air Force veteran who graduated from EMCC last year. “I come here and ask questions about things like buying a house and military-related things like disability and education. This place is awesome.”
Ramon Gonzalez, an Army veteran who will be graduating from EMCC this spring, has also been helped tremendously by the Veterans Services Center.
“They have helped me with counseling and school and life,” he said. “It’s a community that supports each other.”
The word “community” is a common phrase used when describing the center.
“The Veterans Services Center community itself is huge,” Smith said “As a veteran and also as a military spouse, it’s hard to connect with other people, so being around like-minded individuals, people who have gone through the same things and understand the same things, has helped me out a lot. It also encouraged me to continue with my education.”
In fact, if Veterans Services had not been there to help Smith navigate the enrollment process when she moved to Arizona from Alaska only a week before the semester began, she probably would not have received her associate degree.
“There’s a lot of paperwork when you initially start a new school, so I had to go through all that, and school was about to start and we had just moved here,” she said. I actually got it done, but if I hadn’t talked to Nathan Kelley, Veterans Services Specialist Senior, I honestly don’t think I would have finished.”
Not only did Smith finish, but she’s currently attending Arizona State University (ASU) where she’s pursuing a bachelor’s. And if Sinema has her way, Smith won’t stop there. Sinema, a huge proponent of education, encouraged Smith to go even further and work toward a master’s.
“It really expands your employment opportunities,” Sinema said, adding that she received her Master of Business Administration (MBA) last year through an ASU online program.
“I did my MBA mostly on a plane, because I travel a lot for a living,” she said.
Smith isn’t exactly sure what she wants to do with her degree, but Sinema said not to worry.
“Whenever I don’t know what to do,” Sinema said, “I just go get another degree.”
Bringing a resource center to the West Valley
The Veterans Services Center, which held its grand opening in Komatke Hall in September 2013, can answer just about any question a veteran student has and point him or her in the right direction, but ultimately, students must still travel to multiple locations, most of which are downtown, to receive many of the services they are due.
“Bringing more resources out to the West Valley would be beneficial,” Robert Dorsett, Student Services Manager, Veterans Services, told Sinema. “Specifically housing Arizona Department of Veteran Services, VA Healthcare, and Arizona at Work all in the same place. So they don’t have to go to multiple places.”
Without hesitation, Sinema said, “Let’s call Luke. I’d be happy to personally ask Luke’s commander if we could work on this.”
As a social worker, Sinema knows first-hand there’s nothing that helps people get services more than having them all located in one space. Setting up a resource center at Luke would probably take about six months but Sinema is confident it will happen.
“We will have to work with the VA and Arizona at Work and DVS to figure out how to get the staffing resources out here, but this is a really good solution,” she said. “That’s a big project we’re going to work on.”