The Chronical of Higher Education, October 23, 2009, page A 26
A Community College Makes a Home for Veterans
WOUNDED VETERANS in Massachusetts will soon have a place where they can
be rehabilitated and educated alongside their families on a 10-acre
spread at Mount Wachusett Community College.
The residential treatment center, in Gardner, will serve veterans of
the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have lost limbs or suffered
disfiguring burns, brain injuries, or post-traumatic stress disorders.
The veterans and their families can live in the 20 apartments for as
long as two years, take free courses at the college, and use its
fitness center, playing fields, and other facilities.
The state legislature approved a bill last year authorizing Mount
Wachusett to lease 10 acres of its 269-acre campus to Veteran
Homestead, a nonprofit group, to build the Northeast Veteran Training
and Rehabilitation Center.
Daniel M. Asquino, the college's president, served in the U.S. Navy
from 1961 to 1965. When the nonprofit group's chief executive officer,
Leslie Lightfoot, inquired about educational opportunities for
veterans, Mr. Asquino agreed to provide them and asked Ms. Lightfoot if
she needed anything else. Land would be nice, she said.
"It took me about 60 seconds to say yes," says Mr. Asquino. "Morally and ethically, it's the right thing to do."
Veteran Homestead has raised more than $8-million for the center, which
is scheduled to open in January. Instead of paying for the 30-year
lease, the nonprofit group will offer internships for the college's
nursing and allied-health students.
Among those who welcome the new addition is Christopher P. Brown, a
Gulf War veteran enrolled in the college's physical therapy-assistant
Mr. Brown, who has post-combat stress disorder, had a job as a
firefighter after his military service but quit after suffering from
carbon-monoxide poisoning and seizures. "Afterward I became homeless
and sort of self-destructed," he says. "Nothing in my life was
Another veteran told him about a residential organic farm run by
Veteran Homestead in New Hampshire. At the end of his stay there, the
group helped him define new career goals. Getting a college education
Now in his third year at Mount Wachusett, he hopes to volunteer with
Veteran Homestead and possibly work for the group after he graduates.
"Being a physical-therapy assistant is all about trying to assist,
someone to return to normal function," he says. "I'm going to be
helping people get their lives back together - K.M.