When Marine Corps veteran Gerardo Ruiz carried the American flag as part of the annual Taps on the Hill ceremony at JCCC on Nov. 8, 2023, he was grateful it was breezy and 65 degrees. As Veteran Services Coordinator in the JCCC Veteran and Military Student Resource Center, he has carried the flag in past years’ ceremonies through all kinds of weather — cold, rain, sleet. But when Veterans Week weather is nice, Taps on the Hill attracts more people, which amplifies the emotional impact of the quiet march to the hill that commands the campus courtyard just south of the Commons building. Observers stand outside, hat in hand, hand on heart, as the military bugle sounds the familiar notes of Taps. As they echo off the campus’ brick buildings, everyone takes a moment to honor all who have served our country — and acknowledges that for some, that service included making the ultimate sacrifice.
Taps on the Hill is one of several events held at JCCC each November to mark Veterans Week — a week dedicated to recognizing everything that veterans, active members of the military, and their families have done to support the rest of us. The week includes special events and oral history presentations, writing outreach projects, a resource fair for veteran and military-affiliated students, and the Veteran Honor Luncheon and Pay It Forward Scholarship Ceremony. It’s a meaningful and moving JCCC tradition.
But honoring veterans doesn’t just happen once a year. It happens every day, thanks to Gerardo and the rest of the staff in the Veteran and Military Student Resource Center.
Meeting the unique needs of veterans and military students
Located on the third floor of the Commons building, the Veteran and Military Student Resource Center provides a place where veterans and military-affiliated students can find guidance, resources and connections — and learn that JCCC is the right place for them to achieve their goals after military service.
“Our services are based on a simple concept of ‘veterans serving veterans,’ explains Kena Zumalt, Program Director, Veteran and Military Student Services. “The center opened during Veterans Week 2014 to support JCCC student veterans in their transition from military to civilian and college life. The Center pursues a holistic mission to empower veteran and military-affiliated students to succeed in meeting their educational and vocational goals. By providing wrap-around services and opportunities to connect with other veterans and access to resources designed with their needs in mind, we bring the greater JCCC mission — to inspire learning to transform lives and strengthen communities — to life for this unique population.”
In addition to helping with VA education benefits, the Veteran and Military Student Resource Center offers many paths for veterans and military-affiliated students to get involved on campus and access to programs to enhance their success at JCCC and beyond.
- JC Student Veterans of America is a student organization that welcomes JCCC military veterans and dependents, as well as military supporters, to join in community to build relationships and establish a sense of purpose. They host guest speakers, connect members to campus resources and promote campus and community engagement.
- Peer Advisors for Veteran Education (PAVE) is a peer support program that connects incoming student veterans with current student veterans who are trained Peer Advisors. These PAVE pairings help new students find resources and plug in to the campus community. JCCC is one of 46 PAVE partner campuses in the University of Michigan’s nationwide program and was the first college in Kansas to participate in PAVE.
- In partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs, JCCC is part of the VetSuccess on Campus (VSOC) program. This program places a VA vocational counselor on the JCCC campus to help service members, veterans and dependents with education and benefits counseling to help them achieve their educational and career goals.
- New this year, JCCC became home to the Johnson County field office for the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs’ Veteran Services Officer, who helps veterans and their family members in filing claims with the VA. This service is co-located with the Center on campus.
Support extends beyond the center’s services
Support for veterans at JCCC also includes scholarship support. In 2019, the JCCC Foundation established the Pay It Forward Student Veteran Scholarship to provide financial assistance to help veterans reach their academic goals. Donors to the fund can honor a family member or loved one’s military service. Donors who give $500 or more can attend one of the semi-annual honor luncheons on campus and meet the scholarship recipient who benefited from their support.
Connect to learn more
Service members, veterans and military dependent students interested in learning more should contact the Veteran and Military Student Resource Center.
Donors interested in the Pay it Forward Student Veteran Scholarship — or other ways to support JCCC student veterans through donations — should contact the JCCC Foundation.