New university program INVESTs in helping veterans

Wilkes University recently announced two initiatives to support veterans in their return to civilian life and ease their transition to higher education.

The university is creating the Inter-Organizational Veteran Educational Support Team (INVEST) and has hired AmeriCorps VISTA worker Emily McGaha to help carry out its work.

McGaha’s position is supported by a grant from Pennsylvania Campus Compact (PACC).

“In essence, she really is a volunteer in service to America,” said Megan Boone Valkenburg, coordinator of the Wilkes University Civic Engagement Office. “She doesn’t get a traditional paycheck. She’s giving of herself and of her time to creative programs here that have a huge impact.”

McGaha receives a small living allowance and an education award at the end of her service.

Wilkes University is one of just 23 colleges in Pennsylvania receiving a grant to fund an AmeriCorps VISTA position for the upcoming academic year.

Valkenburg said that additional support is needed for veterans as they transition to civilian life.

“They come to us and they don’t have the support of the military behind them anymore; they’re a solo person,” Valkenburg said. “They may have families, they may not. But they need that safety net of a social support system. Part of Emily’s job will be to provide that, to create social programs for veterans and their families.”

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, about 1.4 million veterans are considered at-risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks and poor living conditions. The National Center for Education Statistics indicates that 49.3% student veterans did not complete their degree.

McGaha’s primary goals will be to help provide a support network for veterans and their families, fully inform them of their VA benefits and maximize their education opportunities.

McGaha will also support Wilkes Veterans’ Counselor Lt. Col. Mark Kaster and the Wilkes University Veterans Council. The work will include helping to develop social programs that will benefit veterans by providing assistance in recruiting, training and monitoring volunteers.

Additionally, McGaha will work on both a large-scale job and career fair and an academic fair that will allow other campuses to reach out to the veterans in the area.