Safe Haven: Students, Advocacy Help Make Campus Veterans’ Center a Reality
By Alaina Leary ’15
Lisa Ducharme, Westfield State’s veteran and military services coordinator, had a vision to create a dedicated space on campus where students active in the military, veterans, and families had a one-stop shop.
A retired non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Air Force, Ducharme has a strong family military background, and she believes that supporting the on-campus military family is crucial. Ducharme says that military, veterans, and family members face unique challenges as students. Some experience a “missing sense of camaraderie,” a feeling that they are outsiders, she says.
The center, Ducharme notes, will provide the roughly 310 student military, veterans, and family members on campus with a space to connect with one another and access resources. “We want our student military family to collaborate and network,” Ducharme says. “If they have a place to collaborate, we can not only provide peer-based support, but also provide different programs and
bring in outside resources. And that’s really important.”
Ducharme will run the center, which she hopes to have up and running by 2017. She will be involved in overseeing the center and making sure our military family, which includes faculty, staff, students, and alumni, know they can use the space.
But Ducharme didn’t get to this point alone. Along with Charles “Chuck” Towse ’13, M’16, the president of the newly formed Student Veterans Association, they created a business plan that was partially modeled after a student proposal for a veterans’ center on campus.
That student proposal was written by Evelyn Dina ’16, Paul Falcone ’16, Emily Ellis ’16, and Alaina Leary ’15, as part of a civic engagement course taught by Catherine Savini, Ph.D., the director of the campus Reading and Writing Center.
Dr. Savini set up the course as an introduction to tutoring in the writing center but also as a window of opportunity to make sustainable change for the campus community.
Dina, Falcone, Ellis, and I chose to work with student veterans. “I thought it was important that students learn about the skills veterans bring to the University and also about some of the challenges they might face,” says Dr. Savini.
“When we establish this center, it’s critically important that we establish a center that can grow,” says Ducharme.
“The Military Center of Excellence is part of the key to success for our military community.”