Fundraiser Provides Services for Student Veterans
(Santa Ana, CA)— Stacy Palencia isn’t your average community college student.
At 29, she’s older than many of her classmates and her life experience is quite different. While many of them were attending high school, she was serving in the U.S. Navy in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. While at sea, she helped supply munitions for airborne missions. After returning to the U.S., she served shore duty for two years in Nevada and returned home to Orange County in 2012 with a back injury.
Now, in her second year at Santa Ana College (SAC), Palencia has worked hard to transition from active military service to civilian life. But, fortunately, she hasn’t had to make that transition alone. She said, “The SAC Veterans Resource Center (VRC) has been very helpful. It offers me and other veterans a quiet place to study, computers and printers to use, a book and graphic calculator loan program, academic counseling, help with financial aid and much, much more.”
But what is even more important to Palencia, the VRC has become a home away from home. It is where she goes to connect with fellow veterans. “You really get close to other veterans,” she said. “It’s like you’re back in the military. We are there for each other. If someone is struggling with homework, you help them. It is just much easier to talk with someone who has gone through the same things you have.”
At first, Palencia thought she wanted to enter the nursing program, but SAC has given her the space to consider other options. She took a sign language class and loved it. Now, she has set her sights on a career in speech-language pathology or audiology. Her end goal is to do something that helps the deaf and hearing impaired community. With four or five classes to go, Palencia plans on transferring to earn her bachelor’s degree and hopes to complete a master’s degree.
Not only has she discovered her passion of working with the deaf community, through the VRC, she has also found an activity that she loves---golf. Her back injury made participating sports difficult for her. “Being broken changes you,” she said. “You aren’t that strong person you used to be.”
But now she can golf and she is thrilled. Through a partnership with Strength in Support (SIS), a 501c3 organization, the VRC is able to offer golf outings to the SAC student veterans. Through these outings to the Mission Viejo Golf Course, Palencia has found a sport that works for her and has been pleased to connect with her mentor Tony Guilder as well as other veterans. “Tony’s support has meant a lot to me,” she said.
In addition to her classes and interest in golf, Palencia has been active in student life. Last year, she served as president of the Veterans Student Association and is now serving as its vice president. She is also currently serving as the Associated Student Government’s Veterans Affairs Senator, and as a member of the college’s Facilities Committee and the Family of Colors Club. With the assistance of the VRC, she landed two scholarships to help offset the cost of her education. She is most proud of her support of the rededication of the college’s Bill of Rights Freedom Monument. The monument is replica of the Credo Monument in Valley Forge, PA.
Since the drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, over one million veterans and their dependents have enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). For many SAC student veterans, who are utilizing their veteran benefits to access higher education, the VRC becomes their sanctuary on campus. Last year, there were 510 veterans enrolled in classes at Santa Ana College. In 2014, there were over 6,000 visits to the VRC to access needed services.
The college’s Veteran Resource Center (VRC) provides the following services:
- Access to a Certifying Official for help with accessing GI Bill benefits.
- Specialized academic counseling to develop educational plans to meet VA benefit requirements.
- Customized orientation and academic skills workshops for veterans.
- Quiet study area with access to computers, the Internet and a printer.
- Mentorship stipends that are available to student veterans who participate in the VA Work-Study program.
- Free coffee and snacks for student veterans.
- Graphing calculator loan program.
- Book loan program that enables student veterans to purchase books before their VA benefits kick in.
- Help with financial aid applications.
- Access to a vocational rehabilitation counselor.
- Veterans Student Association.
Other programs and services available to veterans through the VRC include: priority registration, accommodations for veterans with disabilities, distance learning, Board of Governors fee waivers, in-state tuition waivers, access to the college's child development centers, work-study/campus job opportunities, and health and wellness services. Strength in Support (SIS), a non-profit organization, provides free mental health support to active duty service members, veterans and their families through the SAC VRC. Services provided by SIS include individual, couples, family, and or group therapy. SIS therapists help students deal with isolation, PTSD, depression, substance abuse, anxiety, educational problems, marital issues, and the long process of transitioning back to “normal” life at home, enabling veterans to reintegrate as smoothly as possible into an educational setting.
To raise funds to provide needed services for these returning veterans, Santa Ana College is hosting a Soldiers to Scholars Wine Tasting on Thursday, November 5 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the Santora Building, 207 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, CA 92701.
The Soldiers to Scholars event will include live music by the SAC Jazz Quartet, French wine donated by Ronnie Grant, complementary food pairings provided by Little Sparrow, and non-alcoholic beverages. Artwork by Joe DeVera, SAC adjunct art professor and a former sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, will be on display. Reservations are available for $100 per person; corporate sponsorships range from $1,000 to $10,000. The event is sponsored by Bank of the West Commercial Banking. For more information and to purchase tickets, contact (714) 564-6106 or visit www.soldiers2scholars.org.
About Santa Ana College
Santa Ana College (SAC), which is turning 100 years old in 2015, serves about 18,000 students each semester at its main campus in Santa Ana. The college prepares students for transfer to four-year institutions, provides invaluable workforce training, and customized training for business and industry. In addition, another 11,000 students are served through the college’s School of Continuing Education located at Centennial Education Center. Ranked as one of the nation’s top two-year colleges awarding associate degrees to Latino and Asian students, the college is also recognized throughout the state for its comprehensive workforce training programs for nurses, firefighters, law enforcement and other medical personnel. SAC is one of two comprehensive colleges under the auspices of the Rancho Santiago Community College District. Visit www.sac.edu to learn more. For information about Santa Ana College’s Centennial, please visit www.sac.edu/100.
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