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LaGuardia revives veterans’ help program

Twenty-six-year-old veteran Elizabeth Allen returned from Iraq and struggled to readjust herself to civilian life.
“For me, it was a feeling of emptiness,” she said of her departure from fellow soldiers she lived with and worked alongside of for a full year. “There’s this thought that you probably won’t be seeing these people ever again in your lifetime.”
However, she has recently found a new job, helping a revived program for veterans much like herself at LaGuardia Community College (LCC). Allen will work with the veteran’s program director, Samuel E. Farrell II, who began teaching at LaGuardia in 1971, the year the school was founded.
“If veterans need help and I can assist them, it would be no problem for me,” said Allen, a native of the island of Jamaica. “A lot of times when veterans come home, the transition is really hard to get back in the swing of things.”
LCC created their veterans program 35 years ago to do just that - assist former soldiers with GED classes, college preparatory, social services like counseling, financial aid, and integration into the regular student body.
However, the program stopped many of its services in 1995 when funding dried up. Recently, college officials and local lawmakers pushed to bring the “comprehensive” program back.
On Monday, October 29, Congressmember Carolyn Maloney announced that the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) awarded the program a $1.25-million, five-year grant to expand its services - one of three grants from the DOE totaling $4.5 million. Also included in the funds is a $2.7 million Title V grant and $620,000 award for LaGuardia to help other colleges develop ePortfolio technology.
“These federal grants are truly going to do a world of good for students who hail from all around the world,” Maloney told students, teachers and administrators gathered in the college’s “C” building for a press conference with LaGuardia’s President Gail Mellow and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall.
With the funding from the DOE’s Veterans Upward Bound Program, school officials hope to provide any additional assistance needed for students like Far Rockaway resident Aaron Hudson, who served in the Marines for eight years. Studying network system administration, Hudson plans to enroll in a four-year program - at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN or Morehouse College in Atlanta - to study international finance, and after receiving his master’s degree, he hopes to return to New York and stay involved.
“I want to do what I can to give back the help I received,” he said.
While Hudson’s needs might be academic advisement, other students could use different kinds of assistance.
“Military life is extremely different than civilian life,” said Jason Smith, an English and Liberal Arts professor at LaGuardia. Smith, who served three years in the Army and is a disabled veteran, will work with the vets’ program thanks to the funding. “A lot of veterans are even afraid to say that they are veterans.”
In the military, there exists constant structure.
“Nobody is going to make you go to class here,” Smith said.
Veteran Manuel “Manny” Ayala, who served during the Vietnam era, said that for him, unstructured civilian freedom was the hardest thing to get used to. Ayala remembered seeking information about LaGuardia’s program in fall of 1973 and being enrolled no more than two months later.
“I was a high school dropout. Straight from the program, I was able to go into college,” he said, explaining that he studied at LCC then John Jay College of Criminal Justice and now works as an enrollment management officer in the school’s Student Financial Services office.
“If it wasn’t for the compassionate kind of treatment here, who knows what I would have done,” Ayala said.
With the new grant, LaGuardia must enroll a minimum of 120 veterans this year, so Farrell hopes to run additional classes this winter and spring to make up for lost time in September and October.
“Any veteran who is interested in coming in, they need to give us a call,” he said.
For more information, call 718-482-5386.

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