Industrial Tech students pitch in for veterans
IT students on the Bakersfield campus thought they were volunteering some muscle toward the annual “Kern County Veterans Stand Down” event held on Oct. 9th at Stramler Park. They did not realize how much heart they would contribute as well.
“It was amazing seeing the amount of support our community has for its veteran population; homeless and non-homeless alike,” says Christopher Thomason, IT student. “Being a veteran myself, it was rewarding to be able to contribute to the Veterans Stand Down Event.”
SJVC’s IT students arrived the afternoon prior to help set-up for this massive event. “They all showed up and jumped in there to unload trucks, set up 30-40 canopies and stacked a hundred or so cases of water,” says Jim Greer, IT instructor. “It knocked all those items off the checklist,” he says, of the organizers who would otherwise have come in at 4:00 a.m. the morning of the event.
More than 350 service providers, vendors and volunteers contributed to the success of this event.
The Veteran’s Stand Down, sponsored by the California Veterans Assistance Foundation (CVAF) and the Kern County Homeless Collaborative, attracts thousands of military veterans and their families to this all day event. More than 60 booths were set up to provide veterans – many homeless – with services such as free health screenings, assistance with Veterans and Social Security benefits applications, housing information and assistance, massages and information about employment and grants for education, legal services and other helpful resources.
“An actual judge came in and held court for veterans who have outstanding fines, primarily traffic, and gave most of them community service instead,” says Jim. “Getting the fines off their record increases their chances for employment.”
Homelessness is a primary concern for veterans and those trying to help them. The CVAF provides temporary housing for many veterans who must first meet stringent guidelines to qualify. “This organization is not just a handout, but a way to build self-esteem for vets, to help them see their own self-worth,” says Jim, who sees a distinct connection to many students in his class.
Volunteerism is an important aspect of every SJVC student’s education and Jim felt that this act of community service was particularly important to his class because many of his students are veterans, and the local need for assistance to veterans is so great.
“Stand Down has a different meaning for each person that participates,” says Deborah Johnson, CVAF representative. “Service providers meet for the first time and get acquainted, veterans see someone they served with 30 years ago, homeless veterans receive clothing, showers and food, and volunteers get a great feeling of helping our local veterans.”
About 13 percent of our nation’s homeless population is comprised of veterans. There are roughly 46,000 veterans living in Kern County and approximately 6,000 of those and their families are homeless, or near homeless, and in need of immediate assistance.
SJVC’s Bakersfield students also collected about 75-pounds of clothing and non-perishable food to donate to veterans attending the Stand Down event.
The organizers of this event were very grateful to San Joaquin Valley College and the Industrial Technology students who contributed so much to its success. “Before we left, they wanted my guarantee that we would be back to help again next year,” says Jim.
Next year, Jim would like to get other SJVC programs involved with this event for veterans. “We could get some of our students on the medical side to come in and give flu shots, assist in medical screening, and even provide massages from our Massage Therapy program students.”
There was a side benefit to spending time in the service of others. Frito Lay, one of the food contributors that day, expressed interest in working with SJVC to hire IT graduates.
But, the most important impact of their efforts was clear to Jim. “Veterans devoted a lot of their lives for us and for our freedom,” he says. It was an honor to be of service to them on this day.
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