by Gary Zanardi
On Saturday evening Oct. 1, a group of veterans gathered at Dave's Last Chance Saloon on Saunders Settlement Road in Lewiston for a meet and greet. They are members of the Niagara University Student Veterans Association, which formed in 2010.
"We want to establish Niagara University as a veteran-friendly campus," said Andy Rodems, president of the association. He went on to state that the "purpose of the organization was to help transition veterans from military to civilian life."
Who are these veterans? Rodems completed two tours in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps. The association's vice president, Jeff Laughlan, completed three tours in Afghanistan with the U.S. Navy. The two officers illustrate the military records of these new student veterans. Veterans from past military conflicts, including the Vietnam War, are also represented within the association as non-traditional students.
Rob Healy, student veteran coordinator for the association, attended the Oct. 1 meet. He is tasked with ensuring that veterans receive the educational benefits that they have earned as a result of their military service.
"Approximately 60 of the 4,300 students attending NU are military veterans. Eighteen are members of the association," he said.
At the meet and greet, the group's first order of business was not a discussion of its military backgrounds or upcoming academic challenges, but service to the community. One upcoming project is "Paws & Patriots," a program sponsored by the Erie County SPCA that partners veterans in need with abused or abandoned pets. The group is also working with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 313 in Youngstown, assisting that organization in the remodeling of its basement.
On Saturday, Nov. 12, from 4 to 8 p.m., the NU veterans are co-sponsoring a spaghetti dinner at Dave's in support of the Stella B Foundation. According to Nadine Addenbrooke, foundation spokesperson, "Stella B is a local non-profit organization that provides financial assistance for families of children with long-term and life-threatening illnesses." For additional information, visit www.stellabfoundation.org.
Other community service events hosted by the NU veterans will be held during the week of Nov. 7-10. Student veterans will staff an information booth on veterans' educational and health issues at NU's Gallagher Center. On Veterans Day, Nov. 11, the group will participate in a daylong ceremony reading the 6,000-plus names of the battlefield dead from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
"Niagara University will be one of 143 colleges and universities across the country participating in this remembrance ceremony," Rodems said.
For more information, visit www.Niagara.edu/veterans.