The Cal Veteran Services Center has a new permanent home in Hearst Gymnasium, moving from its temporary location in Stiles Hall to provide on-campus counseling and services to student-veterans.
Providing financial aid and academic guidance, the center also serves as a community for student-veterans, according to transfer student and veteran Jet Garner.
“There’s a lot of community solidarity,” said Garner, who also serves as the fundraiser for the Cal Veterans Group, a student-created organization for veterans. “It really helps facilitate us into an academic atmosphere.”
There are currently about 300 documented veterans at UC Berkeley. In November 2014, the Veteran Services program was able to acquire a physical location when UC Berkeley alumnus and veteran Coleman Fung donated more than $500,000. The established space is geared toward services for veterans, including peer mentoring and outreach activities.
“We engage individuals and their broader community to help facilitate transformational higher education experiences for veterans and their communities,” said Javier Chen, a student peer adviser at the Cal Veteran Services Center.
By moving to a campus location, the center no longer needs to pay rent and can allocate more money to its programs. According to Luis Hernandez, a veteran and academic counselor at the Cal Veteran Services Center, the program gets its funding from a combination of taxes and grants, in addition to donations.
“I think Berkeley really pulls people in because of the work they’re doing, the academics they offer, the opportunities, the research — it’s all of those things, in addition to the services, that make veterans want to come to Berkeley,” said Esperanza Bernal, a veteran and coordinator for outreach and recruitment at the Cal Veteran Services Center.
Bernal also stressed the importance of having a community for veterans on campus. She said veterans can often feel marginalized, being the oldest people in their classes or having different life experiences from many other students.
“Centers like these allow them to create their own communities of people with similar experiences, which is very important in a place like Berkeley, which can be intimidating,” Bernal said.
According to Garner, the student-veterans are continually trying to expand their community. In addition to pushing for increased services at UC Berkeley, the Cal Veterans Group is also working with other college veterans to volunteer and give back to their communities.
Recently, UC Berkeley veterans volunteered with Stanford University veterans, who are working toward developing their own services center. On Veterans Day, the two groups and several other groups of college veterans handed out food and clothing at a homeless shelter in San Francisco.
“We don’t have a space on Stanford for veterans just yet,” said Joshua Stanley, financial officer for the Stanford Undergraduate Veterans Association. “It’d be nice to have an area specifically for us so that we can congregate together in a safe environment where we can speak our mind and share our experiences without fear of being ostracized.”
The Cal Veteran Services Center is looking into further expanding its services and hopes to develop a program for dependents of veterans, such as students and partners.