CRYSTAL LAKE – For the past three years, McHenry County College's veterans resource center has been Donald Curfman.
The accounting instructor would take nearly all questions and requests from veterans, doing his best to point them in the right direction for the services they sought. But with a growing veteran population that has reached more than 320 students, the college has opened an official space for all veterans needs.
"We're putting a whole bunch of resources at MCC in one location so if someone has problems with taxes or is having a meltdown and needs a counselor, it's all right there," Curfman said. "They used to have to come to my office, and I would do what I could."
The new Student Veterans Resource Center, located in Room C122, offers services in registration, scholarship applications, post-traumatic stress disorder counseling and information about the Get Skills to Work statewide initiative – a career training partnership with manufacturers and community colleges.
Steve Czarnecki, liaison for the center, said he has larger plans for the organization, including a peer group where veterans can write about their experiences and social gatherings every other week. Both programs already are in their early stages.
Czarnecki, who served four years in the Navy, said returning military members need social support as much as financial or educational support. When he returned home in August 2012, he was going to taxi school to drive a cab in Chicago because he had no clear plan for his next step. He now is working to become a firefighter.
"I definitely want it to be a social place. We want veterans to come and intermingle and talk about careers and what they're studying and help each other out," Czarnecki said. "The goal is to put the past away and focus on the future and see what they can do to set themselves up for success."
R.J. Evangelista knows all about the challenges of transitioning from military to civilian life and was eager to help launch the center in his second go-round in college.
Evangelista, who served in the Army and reserves from 1986 to 1990, said the awareness of veteran students and expansion of resources he sees happening at McHenry County College was not present in the early 1990s when he attended Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville.
After being out of work the past couple of years, Evangelista enrolled at MCC through the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program in August 2012 and hopes to show others the same opportunities that can benefit their futures.
"Getting a veterans community here on campus is the biggest thing because veterans are a different kind of student," he said. "This second chance of coming to school and meeting all these younger vets has been great. It's amazing to see just from last November when we started working toward this until now to see how this community has grown."
Students interested in getting involved in the center can call 815-479-7543 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The center is open from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.