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Veterans Center Opens At NLU Will give military students a one-stop shop for services, study, lounge

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Veterans, National Louis University staff and others listen as student veteran Derrick Mitchell sings the national anthem a cappella on Veterans Day at the opening of NLU’s Robert R. McCormick Foundation Veterans Center and Lounge.

Great things, such as National Louis University’s Veterans Resource Center and Lounge, start with “aha!” ideas.

The Veterans Resource Center, which opened Nov. 11 at NLU’s Chicago campus at 122 S. Michigan Avenue, is one of those great things. Funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, it will give military students a one-stop shop for everything from their first visit, when they’ll meet staff and learn about benefits and financial aid, to subsequent visits, when they’ll enroll, get career guidance and receive academic help, to their all-purpose hangout during their student years.

They’ll be able to study, use computers and printers, grab a snack and chill with other veterans and military-connected students.

“This space is yours, we want you to enjoy it, enjoy the resources, come socialize,” NLU Vice President of Student Services Steve DiBenedetto told veterans at the ribbon cutting. “I just want you to know, when you need help, we’re here for you. Just contact Ray (Ramon) Prieto (director of student veteran coordination).”

If student veterans hit a hard point in life, Veterans Center staff –think of them as kind of a concierge for the military-to-student transition–can step in to untangle red tape, provide a tutor, access emergency rent money, find a mental health counselor or otherwise mitigate a challenging situation. NLU provides a Wraparound Services model, in which it can tap into a wealth of resources to help military students stay in college until they graduate–even when other pressures, such as financial woes, challenging academics or family stress crop up.

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Veterans and NLU staff watch the ribbon cutting for the new National Louis University Veterans Resource Center.

Many military students drop out of college because they lack rent money, suffer from stress or other problems; NLU’s Wraparound Services model can help them stick with school through graduation.

While that in itself is an “aha!” idea, it took other such ideas to make it happen.

One happened way back in 2001. Dan Shannon, president of Aspire Tenant Services, was watching post 9/11 news coverage of a soldier saying goodbye to his wife and child before deploying to Iraq.

“That moment really struck me,” said Shannon. Though he’s not a veteran, he was so deeply touched that he resolved to support military and their families.

His resolve led to founding Operation Homelink, a non-profit which partners with corporations to refurbish retired laptops and distribute them to non-profits which serve military and veterans.

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NLU Student Veteran Derrick Mitchell, left, and NLU VP for Student Services Steve DiBenedetto listen as Ramon “Ray” Prieto, NLU’s director of veteran student coordination, welcomes listeners to the new veterans’ center’s ribbon cutting ceremony.

And in this case, Shannon, who renovates downtown Chicago buildings through his business, project-managed the renovation of several National Louis University offices into the spacious, sleek new Veterans Center. The McCormick Foundation, the Home Depot, National Louis University, Christopher Glass and Aluminum, Continental Painting and Decorating, International Decorators, McGuire Engineers, Palos Electric, The Home Depot, Total Interior Service, USA Fire Protection and Vincent Lind and Lee Ltd. donated improvements, through grants and donated services.

Another “aha!” idea originated with NLU’s Veterans Program staff, who felt it didn’t make sense to work in offices on a different floor from the previous Veterans’ Lounge.

“Our hope is by having a focal point for student veterans to study, socialize and relax we could meet and interact with them more regularly. It is through these encounters we could foster relations and provide assistance as needed,” said Prieto.

In a nutshell, NLU¹s Veterans Program offers:

* Dedicated financial aid contact to help military students navigate
their benefit options, including tuition discounts
* Credit hours for military experience
* Student Veterans of America Chapter
* Veterans who lead the program and provide guidance to students
* Employer outreach specialist and career tools to help students
identify career opportunities
* Access to the NLU Veteran Alumni Network
* The Air University (AU) Associate to Baccalaureate Cooperative (ABC)
program, which is a partnership between the Air Force and civilian higher
education institutions that offers Community College of the Air Force
(CCAF) graduates with opportunities to earn their bachelor’s degree
* Advisory Council of 20 volunteers with extensive professional and
military experience
* Wrap-around services
* *Robert R. McCormick Foundation Veterans Resource Center and Lounge on
NLU¹s Chicago campus

National Louis University’s (NLU) Veterans Program is funded through a grant from
the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.