Ground broken on center to provide services for veterans to continue their higher education

By Danielle Banks

Local University and state officials met at an event Friday at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Nevada Street to break ground on a new center for wounded veterans.

The Chez Family Foundation Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education will be constructed by fall 2015 and is funded by various gifts, including the top gift of $6 million from the Chez Family Foundation. Another $4 million donation was given through the Illinois Jobs Now! program.

“It will provide services to the families of veterans, counseling, financial assistance, and also have living facilities for severely wounded veterans to continue their higher education,” said Ron Chez, president of the Chez Family Foundation. “It’s everybody’s responsibility (and) obligation to honor those who have served their country so bravely. … We just try to find ways to fill a need.”

Tanya Gallagher, dean of AHS, said she planned the center’s development and is helping to organize its programs. She said she hopes the center will be equipped to help veterans with the most severe disabilities. She said the University has a long history of working with disabled students; the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services was founded by Dr. Tim Nugent in 1948 to aid World War II veterans with disabilities.

“We are the college that has been running the Beckwith program as a part of Nugent Hall, which is a program for students with severe disabilities that require assistance with activities and daily living,” she said. “We have unique expertise and a long history as a national leader in disability, so it was really within our vision to move forward and reach out to the best group of veterans.”

Gallagher said she is confident that the Center will contribute to veterans’ successes post-college, despite any disabilities they may have.

“Five to 10 years from now, I’m envisioning we’ll see more of these graduates moving on to careers and contributing wonderful talents to the nation, and that more of the nation will see that they have a very bright future. Their future will not be defined by the severity of their disability,” she said. “The center will be groundbreaking for innovations relative to assisting individuals with the disabilities that these veterans are presenting.”

She added that the center will serve as a locus for the rest of the nation, and through its breakthroughs, will set an example that other organizations can follow.

“On behalf of the entire campus community, I extend my sincere appreciation to Ron Chez and the Chez Family Foundation, Governor Quinn and the important donors who have stepped up to make this important project a reality,” she said in a press release.

Danielle can be reached at [email protected]