For most of her career at Terra State Community College, Joyce Spencer has been an advocate for U.S.military veterans. Now, she has an army of supporters.
With a push from administration, hard work of maintenance and housekeeping employees and Spencer's steady guidance, the new Terra State Veterans' Center opened Nov. 15.
The center, in Building A, features four computer work stations, a conference room with white board, and a lounge area with a flat-screen television, coffeemaker, microwave, refrigerator and sink.
According to the release provided by Terra State, Spencer, the success mentor for veterans, has been pushing for a veterans' center since attending a conference in Kentucky four years ago, where a representative from
Mississippi State University gave a presentation on its center.
"They have an awesome veterans' center," Spencer said. "I was very impressed with their brochure and everything about their program. Mississippi State is such a large institution, so I realized we wouldn't have anything like that here - but we could do something."
The center was put on the fast track recently after Terra State President Jerome Webster attended a conference in Washington, D.C., and heard Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki urge college leaders to give veterans a space of their own.
"Soldiers are trained militarily to take care of their fellow soldier," Webster said. "Because of this training, they will help each other get through college, as long as they have a space to get to know each other, and learn how to support one another while in college."
Spencer aimed to provide a safe, comfortable and welcoming space for the veterans.
"We wanted a place where our veteran students could come and relax but also have facilities that they could access the internet and do homework," she said.
Kyle Williams, a U.S. Army veteran from Fostoria, is a frequent visitor to the center.
"It's really nice, quiet," the 2007 Lakota High School grad said. "I like coming in here to talk to Joyce."
While Spencer is appreciative of the large space, she hopes they outgrow it soon. That will mean the veterans are using the center in significant numbers.
A relatively new program, which is already having an impact on increasing veteran students at Terra State, may help Spencer pack the center.
According to the the release, the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program was developed to help unemployed veterans ages 35-60 who have exhausted their VA benefits.
Spencer said Terra State already has about 20 students who are benefiting from that program, and it's only about 6 months old.
Through the center, veteran students can network with veteran advocates from the local Job Stores. Specialists work directly with veterans to help them find work through programs like apprenticeships and on-the-job training, according to Rob Bliss, Disabled Veterans Outreach Program Specialist with the Sandusky and Ottawa counties Job Store.
"The Terra State Veterans' Center is a much needed tool for current and future veterans," he said. "The center will give them a place to meet fellow veterans and relax before their next class."
Jose Zamora, Bliss' counterpart for the Job Store in Seneca County, also sees the center's benefits.
"I would have liked to have a place like this when I attended classes at Terra," Zamora said. "It gives veterans the opportunity to meet and work with other veterans and to learn more about available job training and job search assistance. I encourage veterans attending Terra State to use the center."
For more information about the veterans' program, call Joyce Spencer at (419) 559-2348.