“At GCC, I Feel at Home.”

November 16, 2016

After two attempts at college following five years in the Army, Joshua Chito thought school wasn’t for him. Joshua, 28, currently living in Buckland, had attended Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska and the International Yacht Restoration School in Rhode Island. Joshua wanted to study sustainable farming practices and a friend recommended he check out western Massachusetts. Reading about Greenfield Community College’s Farm and Food Systems program on the college’s website and seeing GCC’s many veteran-friendly services, Joshua thought, “I need to go to this school!”

Joshua, who started at GCC in January, said, “GCC has exceeded my expectations. At GCC, I feel at home. It is a very comfortable environment. Whenever I have an issue I need to resolve, I feel like I have a team of people supporting me. GCC wants to see you succeed.” After graduating from GCC, Joshua plans to transfer to a four-year college to study toward a bachelor’s degree. He then hopes to establish his own farm and raise livestock based on permaculture principles.

Eamonn Mohan, 26, of Greenfield, also served five years in the military. He was in the United States Marine Corps working as a 6324 Avionics Technician at Marine Corps Air Station New River. Now, Eamonn is in his third year studying in GCC’s Emergency Medical Services program. After finishing his Emergency Medical Technician Certificate, Eamonn plans to work as an EMT locally, gain more experience, and then return to GCC to work towards Paramedic certification.

Eamonn said, “Studying at GCC has been painless and fun. By painless, I mean it has been easy getting into the classes I wanted, and there are class schedules for everyone. I was able to work a full-time job, have a newborn, AND take full-time classes at the same time. I really love the environment at GCC. The staff and faculty, even my fellow students, are always there for any questions. They genuinely care whether I succeed.”

Key to the support both Joshua and Eamonn have found at GCC is the Channing and Marie Bete Veterans Center. Eamonn said, “Without the direct support of the GCC Veterans Center, I would NOT be in college right now. Exiting Active Duty is confusing enough and trying to retain all the things you need to know is nearly impossible. When I first went to GCC’s Financial Aid office and they sent me to Holly Lovelace at the Veterans Center, I barely knew the right questions to ask. They are an integral piece to this school and how it directly interacts with veterans. The Veterans Center is the reason I am here right now and I couldn’t be more thankful to them.”

Dedicated four years ago on November 11, 2012, the Veterans Center was made possible by the generous support of Joe and Marie Bete. Joe and Marie, remembering their own years as a military family, noted at the dedication that they understood the importance of the community recognizing the sacrifice of serving our country. They also believe deeply in the value of education and wanted to demonstrate their commitment to veterans by making the path to a college degree just a little bit smoother. They shared their thoughts this year on the meaning of Veterans Day – “This is the time for us to reach out, welcome them, and join the journey home of all our veterans.”

Career/Veterans Affairs Counselor Chris Demars staffs the Veterans Center and knows what it is like to adjust to civilian life after serving in the military. Chris came to GCC a year and a half ago after 27 years in the military, including time in the National Guard and the infantry and two deployments to Afghanistan.

Chris said, “Veterans have a home at GCC. We are doing as much as possible to help veterans transition from life in the military to civilian life. We want to help them be successful in their classes at GCC so they can move on to their next steps, whether it is a career or further education. Throughout GCC, there’s a camaraderie of vets learning from other vets, student veterans giving advice to other student veterans.”

Currently, 63 veterans are using veteran benefits at GCC. All veterans receive free tuition at any Massachusetts state college or university and the GI bill pays other expenses and provides a housing allowance. GCC’s student veterans come from all branches of the military. The Veterans Center provides benefits counseling to help veterans understand and use the state and federal benefits available to them. It also provides assistance connecting with other resources at GCC and in the community and has computers available for veterans to use for their school work. The Center is the meeting space for the Vets & Allies Club, a student organization that includes veterans and non-veterans. Like the Club, the Center is a welcoming place for all GCC students. Everyone is encouraged to stop by to enjoy the Center’s free peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and coffee. The Veterans Center also helps faculty and staff understand veterans’ issues. Planned for the spring are a military culture class and a showing of the film “In a Heartbeat” about veterans’ experiences.

For information about the Veterans Center and GCC’s support for veterans, visit http://www.gcc.mass.edu/veterans/vets-center/ or contact Chris Demars at (413) 775-1825 or demarsc@gcc.mass.edu.

By Mary McClintock, ’82

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