Brian Nelson, center, an MCLA student and Navy veteran, holds the big golden scissors to cut the ribbon in front of the new Veterans Resource Center at the college. With him are, from left, Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, state Secretary of Veterans Services Coleman Nee, MCLA President Mary Grant, and North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Looking back 50 years to the Vietnam War, Coleman Nee, the state secretary of veterans services, knows that veterans returning home were not greeted with love and support.
"When you came home, we did not meet our obligation to you as a system," Nee said Wednesday.
But maybe some belated appreciation can still help.
"It may be 50 years late, but hopefully it's not too late," he said. "Thank you."
Nee thanked all of the veterans who attended a ceremony Wednesday at Massachusetts College of Liberals Arts marking the opening of a new Veterans Resource Center in the college's Venable Hall that will give all veterans in the MCLA community the support they need and deserve.
"It's a huge first step," Nee said.
Before helping cut the ribbon on the door of Room 309 with Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, Mayor Richard Alcombright, MCLA President Mary Grant and MCLA student and Navy veteran Brian Nelson, Nee said student veterans are the fastest-growing segment of students.
"Student veterans are really unique," said Nee, a fact that offers an opportunity to "redefine" how we as society support those veterans. "Your pathway to the classroom is difference than your classmates. You are also bringing some sacrifices and some wounds."
Nelson, a business major scheduled to graduate in 2015, said he was pleased to see the VRC come to fruition.
"We now have a space to get together, to be together," he said.
That space is a large, sunny room, complete with comfortable couches and television, computers, and a food and coffee area. It is decorated with flags and banners and even a map of the world donated by the Williamstown American Legion on which pins mark where MCLA veterans have served. Sitting on a desk is a calendar, opened Wednesday to April 14 with "VRC grand opening" written on it with bold black marker. The center will provide MCLA veterans with the essential components in assessment and screening, general academic support systems, professional and peer support, outreach, student organizations, wellness, and access to training and campus-based computer technology.
None of it would have been possible without the support from not only the college community but the greater Northern Berkshire community as well, said Associate Dean of Students Theresa O'Bryant, who spearheaded the effort. O'Bryant said she asked a lot of people for a lot of support while planning the VRC.
"I got a lot of yeses," she said "I had a lot of help."
In the end, that's what makes MCLA's new Veterans Resource Center so special.
"It truly takes a campus to raise a VRC," she said.