Friday, November 14, 2014

Barbecue honors Cuyamaca College student veterans

Veterans and other participants in the barbecue

After more than eight years in the Navy, James Kenney had his sights on going back to school to study computer science. It didn’t take long for him to settle on Cuyamaca and Grossmont colleges.

            “I had a friend who told me that Grossmont and Cuyamaca were more veteran-friendly than any other community college in San Diego County,” Kenney said. “So I’ve been taking classes at both of them. I haven’t been disappointed.”

            Kenney was among the dozens of veterans feted Nov. 13 at a free barbecue for veterans and active-duty students at the Water Conservation Garden at the Cuyamaca College campus. The event was funded by the El Cajon Elks Lodge and co-hosted by Cuyamaca College.
            It was one of several events at both Cuyamaca and Grossmont colleges during the week of Veterans Day.

            “It’s important to honor our veterans who are students at Cuyamaca College,” said Anthony Zambelli, who is president of Elks Lodge 1812 in El Cajon and professor emeritus at Cuyamaca College.

             Money for the barbecue came from a $2,000 Elks National Foundation Freedom Grant, one of scores distributed across the country to benefit veterans, active-duty personnel and their dependents. The gathering featured enough food to feed an army, along with what Zambelli called “veteran students survival kits” – packages containing a flash drive, school supplies and vouchers for textbooks.

            “A lot of these folks are using computers in the Veteran Services Center at Cuyamaca College, so the flash drives will come in handy to store their files,” Zambelli said.

            U.S. Veterans Magazine recently ranked Cuyamaca College among the nation’s top veteran-friendly campuses. The number of veterans and their dependents at the college has climbed to nearly 1,000 since the enactment in 2008 of the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill. About 1,500 veterans and dependents attend Grossmont College, where former Marine Rafael Navarrete serves as president of the Associated Students.

            Both colleges are included in the 2014 list of military-friendly schools by G.I. Jobs, a national monthly magazine that focuses on veterans making the transition to the civilian workforce.

            Sean Woodfield, a retired Marine and Cuyamaca College student transferring to San Diego State University next fall, said Cuyamaca College’s commitment to veterans involves far more than Veterans Day activities.

            “They do a lot. But probably the biggest thing is we get preferential treatment when it comes time to register for our classes,” Woodfield said. “That makes a huge difference.”

            The college district’s dedication to current and former military members fits in with the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks’ mission. “Elks have long been at the forefront of serving veterans and active-duty personnel and their families,” Zambelli said.

             Since the Elks National Foundation was created in 1928, it has contributed more than $384 million towards programs that support youth, honor veterans and meet needs in areas where Elks live and work.

            The El Cajon Elks Lodge (Lodge 1812) has long been involved with Cuyamaca College. In June, a $2,000 Elks National Foundation Gratitude Grant provided the Lodge with funding for transportation vouchers and backpacks filled with school supplies for scores of former foster youth taking part in Cuyamaca’s Unlimited Potential, or UP! program.

            “Our mission is to connect with the community, and Cuyamaca College is an important part of the community,” Zambelli said.