More veteran services coming soon to Pinal County

June 27, 2018
In The News

After 45 years of offering services to veterans in Maricopa County, the Veterans Upward Bound Program is making its way to Pinal County.

VUB is a free educational program offered through Arizona State University — funded by the U.S. Department of Education — that assists veterans with improving academic skills to prepare and transition to a college of their choice. Those enrolled in the program receive online instruction, academic tutoring, assistance with financial aid and scholarship applications and referrals to veteran information.

The program has been in existence in Maricopa County for 45 years. However, when writing the grant application for funding in the upcoming years, ASU requested the services extend to Pinal County as well.

Now, veteran supporters across the county are banning together to make the program a success and offer as many resources as possible. VUB partnered with the local organizations Honoring, Hiring and Helping our Heroes of Pinal County, the Casa Grande Arizona at Work office and Central Arizona College as well as the Veteran Services Department in Congressman Tom O’Halleran’s office.

“The program helps get them ready for college,” said Julia Gusse, director of the VUB program at ASU. “There are many skills that seem basic to us that some veterans never learned, but are essential skills needed for the workforce.”

Gusse was a past participant of VUB herself and said if it wasn’t for the program, there is no way she would have come as far in her career as she is now.

She said some of the services offered are in improving math skills and Microsoft Word, among others. She said they also plan to offer “fun” workshops on things like smartphones and drones for the main purpose of building camaraderie and giving veterans back the relational aspect they once had.

“It’s a time for them to come back together, get coffee and share a few laughs,” Gusse said. “Plus, we never know who we’re going to spark an interest in these various fields.”

Organizations like O’Halleran’s Veterans Department refer constituents who may benefit from VUB. HOHP fills in the gaps that VUB can’t fill, like providing clothes for interviews. CAC offers classes and college admission assistance. And, when the veterans are ready, Arizona at Work helps them find a compatible job. They have many services where veterans have first-priority access.

Aside from the concrete value the programs offer in terms of improving educational status, organizers said there is also a personal benefit as well.

JoAnna Mendoza, with O’Halleran’s office, said many times, the thing that causes veterans to drop out of school or lose a job is because of culture shock.

“This program assimilates them very gently,” she said.

Mendoza said the last thing they want to do is tell a veteran that help is not available, and by having so many inter-woven organizations, they minimize that possibility.

“We’re always making sure we do the best we can do when any veteran comes in,” said Kim Rodriguez, center director for HOHP.

The groups are having a kickoff event to introduce VUB to nearby communities. The event will be on Aug. 2 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the HOHP office in Casa Grande, located at 318 N. Florence St., Suite A.

After the event, the program will continue to provide services to veterans in need of them.