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 program.

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 meaningful."

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 was key.

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.