YOUNGSTOWN - Mahoning Valley veterans said they were shocked and excited to learn Youngstown State University was building a Veterans Resource Center on campus.
The $1.5 million center will provide military veterans and students various services to assist them in the next phase of their education and career.
Most of those who attended the goundbreaking ceremony Wednesday at the construction site between Melnick Hall and Pollock House shared the same sentiment: honored.
The veterans said they wished such a center were available after they were discharged from service.
Michael J. Lacivita, a World War II U.S. Navy veteran, said he graduated from Youngstown State University in 1951 and was pleased to know the school hasn't lost sight of him and other service members.
"I'm impressed. I didn't expect to be treated so well," he said. "I sure could have used this service when I got back and was looking for a job. When I was discharged, a veteran service would've helped."
He said the resource center under construction is the key to helping discharged veterans transition into civilian life.
"I don't remember YSU having a similar service. The adviser was the only person who helped me," Lacivita said.
New Youngstown State University President Randy J. Dunn said this was his first opportunity to turn a new page and visibly recognize veterans.
"We have so many retired veterans who want a higher education, and we want them to come to YSU. The development and construction of the new resource center is a tangible means to show we honor servicemen," Dunn said.
Dunn said breaking ground and building the 6,000-square-foot, two-story center is a way to ensure veterans have an opportunity to succeed as students.
"We have to give veterans an opportunity to succeed, and the center provides an array of services to veterans to show support."
Funded solely by private donations and through the fundraising efforts of a 13-member campaign cabinet that includes cabinet co-chairs and veterans Carl Nunziato, a 1961 graduate of YSU, and Bernie Kosar Sr., a YSU Rayen School of Engineering graduate, the Veterans Resource Center's primary goal and commitment is catering to both current and former members of the military.
Marine Corps League members Harry Dampf and Bruce Kirkland, both of Canfield, Alan Kozak of Boardman and Frank Sokol of North Lima agreed that all service members have to work together after coming home, especially if they have an interest in attending school. The veteran center will allow military students to walk right in and get assistance for all their concerns - whether it's through school officials or other servicemen.
"Like most high school graduates, recruiters grab these 17- to 18-year-old kids and boom, they're in boot camp. Then they're in Iraq at the age of 19, and maybe they're 22 when they get out," Dampf said. "A lot of them don't know what they want to do yet."
Kozak and Sokol said the new campus service not only provides military students with opportunities to adjust, but with the notion that they're not alone.
"It will help with courses and direction," Sokol said. "Young people get into school and aren't yet focused. This puts them in a direction with the skills they picked up in the military."
Leo Connelly Jr., a U.S. Army veteran who served in Vietnam and is a commissioner at Oakhill Renaissance Place, said the resource center is attempting to remove the lack of contact between younger and older veterans.
"If we bring in World War II or Korean War veterans who have been in combat into the 21st century with younger veterans, they can learn new things that are available. They can meet here, share ideas and goals, and help each other. It would keep the camaraderie alive ... and make YSU the number one military friendly college," Connelly said.
Patrick "Rick" Williams, Office of Veterans Affairs coordinator and a retired U.S. Army major, was among those responsible for building the "state of the art" center.
He said its goal is to provide a one-stop shop for veteran and military students. By expanding the facility to meet several educational needs, it appeals to veteran groups and becomes a significant part of the community.
"They can come to the center, apply for financial aid, process all GI Bills, register for classes, all right there. And we're slowly moving in that direction," Williams said.
It is slated to be complete by the fall of 2014.