The struggle to balance the costs of living while attending school may become a little easier for some local veterans enrolled at Foothill College.
The Friends of American Veterans, a local fundraising entity established by Los Altos resident Ron Labetich, recently surpassed its goal of providing 10 scholarships of $1,500 each for military veterans continuing their education at Foothill. To date, Labetich has secured 16 scholarships for the 2013-2014 year simply by asking for – and receiving – sponsorships from several friends and acquaintances, including a number of Los Altos residents.
“We needed 10, but people still wanted to contribute, so it’s been fantastic,” Labetich said. “For me to get the whole thing kind of started, it’s really quite rewarding. The main thing is that it benefits the veterans – that’s the ultimate goal here.”
A Los Altos Rotarian who serves on the organization’s Veterans Support Committee, Labetich said he found inspiration for his work in the son of a family friend – U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Matt Manoukian. A Los Altos Hills resident who attended St. Francis High School, Manoukian was one of three Marines ambushed and killed during an August 2012 security meeting in southern Afghanistan.
The Foothill-De Anza Community College District recently established an endowment in honor of Manoukian to provide scholarships to future generations of student veterans. Labetich said he wanted to “span the gap” between the endowment’s creation and the wait for its funds to grow to enable doling out scholarships to veterans in need.
“With an endowment, you have to raise several thousand dollars, and you take the interest return on that for your scholarships,” noted Labetich, who added that the Rotary Club of Los Altos funded one of the $1,500 scholarships. “There are a lot of veterans here at Foothill who need help now. That’s the reason for moving ahead with (the Friends of American Veterans).”
Labetich’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by those at Foothill College who know the student veterans best.
Veterans Resource Specialist Carmela Xuereb, who manages the Veterans Resource Center, said the scholarships would go a long way toward helping some students achieve their educational goals.
Xuereb estimated that the school currently has more than 600 veterans enrolled in classes. Like other students, she said, they often struggle with the costs of buying textbooks while balancing basic living needs.
“Here in the Bay Area, rents keep going up, and it’s expensive for them to live here. … The cost of living can be a burden on them,” said Xuereb, noting that her center is just one of 12 established in the California junior college system to help veterans transition back to civilian life. “That $1,500 can assist them with books or other things. It’s going to help sustain them and allow them to continue their education.”
Foothill College publicity and publications coordinator Lori Thomas said that while the Montgomery G.I. Bill covers many costs for veterans returning to school, some expenses fall solely on the student.
“If you’re studying something that requires you to purchase computer-aided drafting software, that money doesn’t fall out of the sky,” she said.
Thomas said Labetich’s approaching the donors has removed some obstacles for at least 16 scholarship recipients.
“The scholarships will help streamline the experience so that student veterans can stay in the academic programs that they want to instead of having to make that hard (financial) decision,” she said.
Xuereb agreed, adding that the school’s involvement with local Rotarians like Labetich has made a positive impact on the students they collectively seek to help.
“Since I’ve been involved with the (Los Altos) Rotarians, they’ve been like a godsend to us,” she said. “They are the most generous people and friends that I’ve met. Our community, the people here, have been extremely open and generous.”
Labetich continues his efforts to add more scholarships before the 2013-2014 school year begins. He also aims to make a similar impact through his work as a Rotarian, such as helping veterans secure local jobs while they attend school.
Above all, Labetich seeks to spread awareness of the issues affecting veterans who return home from active duty.
“Once you have awareness, that makes other things possible,” he said. “We’re just trying to get more people involved.”