Opinion

Green River steps it up for veterans | Klaas

Already known for having one of the state's largest community college enrollments, Green River Community College keeps on growing with a healthy infusion of returning veterans ready to rediscover the classroom.

The needs of the returning vets are many: some are poised to continue their education in familiar fields; others want to retrain and launch careers in new territory.

More than 400 veteran students registered at GRCC last year, and many more are expected to sign up for classes this year.

Mary Yahne was one of those veterans who decided to give GRCC a try.

Yahne served overseas in the Army, including a nine-month tour of Iraq before completing her duty and returning to her Renton home.

She soon discovered that beginning civilian life and restarting her education were tougher than she had thought they would be. She didn't know exactly where to begin and got a bit lost in the transition.

"When I got out, I came back home, but there was no information on anything," Yahne told the audience at a Soroptimist International of Kent luncheon this week. Yahne represents the GRCC Foundation's mission under a new initiative to help veteran students with resources. "I didn't know how to get the help I needed."

Needing to pay the bills, Yahne delivered airplane parts and worked as a bartender and truck driver. She was laid off from every job.

She enrolled at GRCC to study business management, but given the stagnant economy decided to try something else.

With the help of the college's veterans-assistance resources, Yahne found answers and opportunities.

Today she participates in the college's welding program, a trade with a future, she says.

VetCorps extends a hand

Yahne also found a good friend in Kristina Setchfield, veteran resources and project manager for GRCC's VetCorps effort.

There are many resources in place to help veterans, including the college's VetCorps program, which helps ease the transition from combat to campus. The Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs developed the new GI Bill education benefits programs for post-9/11 veterans to provide them a supportive environment and easier access to other benefits, such as academic advice, financial aid, career counseling and peer support.

"Many (veterans) kind of do it alone sometimes. They don't know how to get started," said Setchfield, a Marine Corps veteran. "With everybody returning and the job market so slow, most veterans don't know they can transition quickly. ... We help navigate their education. We help them to get there."

Slowly, the college has begun to make a difference. Time after time it has been honored as one of the country's "veteran-friendly" schools.

It has also caught the attention of veterans' groups and businesses looking to help. Support is growing.

Auburn's VFW Post 1741, for instance, donated $500 – "a seed money" contribution – to the GRCC Veterans Emergency Fund. The fund helps student-veterans with relief-type payments while they attend school.

The Post took it a step further, establishing a $1,500 veterans scholarship at GRCC.

Auburn's 1741 is believed to be the first Post in the state to offer an annual college scholarship to a veteran.

Yahne just happened to be the first recipient of the scholarship.

The GRCC Foundation is doing its part. Its new Veterans Educational (VET) Fund covers gaps in student veterans' education benefits.

By 2014, the foundation plans to create 20 new scholarships for student veterans who have exhausted their= educational benefits.

It is all part of the foundation's initiative – a drive to give veterans a welcome home and an opportunity to succeed in school and beyond.

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