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BC3 strengthens services for student veterans

(Butler, PA) Butler County Community College held a Grand Opening for the new Veterans Lounge today on Veterans Day. Located on the second floor of the Student Success Center on main campus, the Veterans Lounge will be a place for student veterans to gather and share their experiences.

Last week, BC3 students, faculty and staff were invited to write the names of family & friends who served in the U.S. Armed Forces on a memorial banner. The banner was on display today at the Veterans Lounge opening in honor of the men and women who have served our country.  

The Student Veterans Association (SVA), in collaboration with BC3 administration, played a part in making the Veterans Lounge a reality. Adam Smith, SVA President and U.S. Army veteran, is majoring in Homeland Security at BC3. His fellow SVA officers Jason Brannon and Kyle Bodkin are also active members of the SVA. Brannon, a Homeland Security major, is an 11 year army veteran and served 3 tours in Afghanistan. Bodkin, an Engineering major, served 1 tour in Afghanistan.

The SVA was established at the College 5 years ago, but just became active again in the last year. SVA members plan to use the new veterans lounge to connect with student veterans on campus. The lounge will have a television, computer, printer, lounge space and bulletin board to post local resources and information relevant to veterans.

There are over 200 veterans attending BC3 Main Campus and locations in Cranberry Township and Lawrence and Mercer counties. Student veterans at BC3 are a diverse group from the Army Reserve, National Guard, Vietnam and active duty and range in age from 26 to 60.

"Veterans are not traditional age," said Brannon. "We have experiences other students don't and the SVA offers a common ground for support."

SVA members marched in the Butler Veterans Parade today to help establish their group. The SVA works hand in hand with other organizations to encourage donations and outreach for veterans programs.

In a recent survey of over 12,000 schools, BC3 was named as a "Military Friendly School" for 2014 by Victory Media, ranking BC3 is the top 15% of schools nationwide. Case Willoughby, Vice President for Student Services, is the SVA Advisor and committed to helping veterans make the transition to students.

"Our goal is to raise awareness of the issues Veterans face, without stereotyping" said Willoughby. In October, Willoughby moderated a panel discussion at a conference for the four Western PA community colleges to help faculty and administrators learn to create a supportive environment for student veterans. He is also in the process of planning a veteran sensitivity training for BC3 faculty in January.  

In addition to raising awareness, BC3 also provides student veterans with support services. Stella Smith, Associate Director of Financial Aid, is the Student Veterans Services Coordinator. Smith helps student veterans navigate financial aid and grant options and educational benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

At today's Veterans Lounge opening, Smith was presented with an honorary plaque by the student veteran officers of the SVA in appreciation of outstanding support and dedication to student veterans.

One of those options is the Veterans Helping Veterans Fund created through a $5,000 donation from the Lyndora Legion. The funds help BC3 student veterans who may encounter a financial emergency related to their education.

Another option is the newly established SPC Ross A. McGinnis "Pay A Good Deed Forward" Scholarship funded by the Village to Village Foundation. While serving in Iraq in December 2006, McGinnis gave his life by using his body to cover a grenade saving 4 of his friends and fellow soldiers. McGinnis received a Medal of Honor for his heroic action.

The first BC3 student to receive this scholarship is Jordan Bitzer, an U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq in 2003-04. Today at BC3, Thomas McGinnis, Ross's father, presented Bitzer with the $500 scholarship. As a recipient, Bitzer also received a token in McGinnis's honor. The idea behind the token is to honor McGinnis by telling his story and doing a good deed for someone else. Givers and receivers of the token are encouraged to share their story on the Village to Village Foundation website.

Anyone interested in making a gift to support student veterans at BC3 can do so through the SPC Ross A. McGinnis "Pay A Good Dead Forward" Scholarship or the Veterans Helping Veterans Fund.