Above: (L to r) Margaret Everett, Thomas Graves, Gene Ferraro, Erik DeGiorgi and Steve Abrams cut the ribbon on the new Veterans’ Resource Center & Lounge.
About 70 people from across campus and beyond were on hand Friday morning for the official launch of the Veterans’ Resource Center & Lounge, a small but important nook on the third floor of University Hall, right next to the Porter Café.
“The room might be small, but it’s the beginning of big things,” said Jennifer Serowick, assistant vice president for adult learning, in the moments before the brief, convivial launch ceremony.
Gene Ferraro, assistant director for academic advising at Lesley's Center for the Adult Learner, welcomed the crowd of well-wishers, including Erik DeGiorgi ’18, a Marine Corps veteran, Lesley alumnus and graphic designer, whom Ferraro met years ago at a student-recruiting event.
Ferraro pointed out that, though he is not a veteran himself, he is the proud son of a World War II veteran and, having been in school during the Vietnam War, realized the need for universities to support veterans. He is also a longtime volunteer at the Veterans’ Administration Hospital in Bedford, Mass.
“It’s a start,” Ferraro said of the resource center. “We’re going to see it develop. We’re going to see it grow.”
The center is an inclusive space for veterans and their families, offering a place to relax, network or obtain information about a variety of programs offered to men and women affiliated with Lesley who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. On the wall outside the center are fine, laser-cut wood carvings of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard emblems, which were brought to Lesley by art therapy student Steve Abrams, a retired Army soldier and outreach coordinator for the veterans services division of the Brockton, Mass., mayor’s office.
"The smallest step in the right direction can make the biggest difference (and) change a lot of lives,” Abrams said during the ceremony. Ferraro, Abrams’s academic advisor, said he is overwhelmed at the work Abrams put into the resource center.
The center and lounge itself boasts comfortable seating, a table, a microwave oven and a television. Ferraro said he believes it will be an important respite for students who are veterans, as they’ll be able to converse about their shared experiences, or simply take a break from the academic bustle.
“After talking to veterans who were interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree, I realized there was a need for university-based veterans’ services, and a place for them to gather, network or just talk about their shared experiences,” Ferraro said in the days leading up to the opening.
Veterans seeking information about services like the Massachusetts Veteran Tuition Credit, the GI Bill or other federal benefits can turn to the Veterans’ Resource Center & Lounge for assistance, as well as a place of comfort and a sense of belonging.
University President Janet L. Steinmayer said she is enthusiastic about Lesley’s veterans center, remembering how meaningful Veterans’ Day was to her when she was president of Mitchell College in New London, Conn., an important base for the Coast Guard. While she enjoyed and was moved by the annual Coast Guard ceremony, she joked that her gusto was kept in check by a tendency toward seasickness.
Ferraro pointed out that, even before the center’s opening, Lesley provided some measure of support for veterans, in the person of Thomas Graves, who works for the university registrar, but took on the task of serving as a de facto veterans’ services agent.
Graves, a writer, quoted English Romantic poet John Keats and humbly referred to himself as a “scribe of the exploits” of students who served under arms, as well as a “poet for veterans.”
Following the brief speakers program, audience members enjoyed a brunch buffet and spent the waning moments of Friday morning lingering and mingling in and around the new resource center.