Veteran navigates transition to college with help from Foothill center, Rotarians

Courtesy of Foothill College Veterans Resource Center
U.S. Navy vet Charles Viajar graduated from Foothill College and transferred to San Jose State. He credits Foothill’s Veterans Resource Center with putting him on a career path.

Charles Viajar knows firsthand the positive impact Foothill College’s Veterans Resource Center can have on a student veteran. The support and resources the VRC offered factored in his decision to attend Foothill and later transfer to San Jose State University.

Viajar knew that he could use the self-discipline and leadership skills he learned from his six years in the U.S. Navy in civilian life, but he also recognized that the transition out of the military might be difficult for him, as it is for many veterans.

“I was lost,” he said, recalling how overwhelmed he felt. “I knew I wanted to continue my education, but I wasn’t sure which direction to go.”

Viajar attributed much of his success to Carmela Xuereb, former VRC manager at Foothill College, who shepherded him through U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ matters.

“Carmela walked me through how to get my benefits,” he said. “The VA is very complicated and sometimes you just need that little bit of extra help, someone sitting down with you and guiding you through the process.”

During his time at Foothill, Viajar was a student worker at the VRC and realized that he enjoyed helping other students navigate the process of applying for their educational benefits – so much so that he returned to work at the VRC after he transferred to San Jose State.

VRC staff helped Viajar with his transition from community college to San Jose State.

“Transferring is not easy – there is a lot of paperwork,” Viajar said, noting that a mistake in the process could delay a transfer significantly.

Veterans resource specialist Julie Brown and VRC counselors guided Viajar through the transfer process, and after graduating from Foothill with degrees in communications and sociology, he transferred to San Jose State, where he is studying sociology.

Rotarians lend a helping hand

While VRC staff played a significant role in helping Viajar succeed at Foothill, he benefited from financial support in the form of book vouchers and scholarships available through the Foothill-De Anza Foundation. Both the foundation and the college credit the support in large part to the efforts of the Rotary Club of Los Altos and Rotarian Ron Labetich, who has led the fundraising charge for Foothill student veterans since 2013. Over the years, the Rotary Club, the Town Crier and local residents have donated nearly $700,000 for student veterans at Foothill. Their support has funded book vouchers; the Friends of the American Veterans Scholarship, in memory of U.S. Marine Capt. Matt Manoukian, a Los Altos Hills native and former Foothill College student killed in Afghanistan in 2012; and the Veterans Plaza on campus, dedicated in Manoukian’s honor.

The Rotary Club of Los Altos has done more than provide financial support to Viajar and other student veterans – Viajar considers Labetich and fellow Rotarian Jack Kelly his mentors. Labetich and Kelly visit the VRC frequently and on Wednesdays provide a free lunch for student veterans, an opportunity for socializing and fostering camaraderie.

Viajar wants to continue giving back to veterans by becoming a counselor who works with student vets. He plans to apply to San Jose State’s master’s in counseling program next spring. He has come a long way from feeling overwhelmed and unsure of where to start his education to discovering his passion for helping other veterans find their path.

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