Illini Veterans RSO shows power of community


The Daily Illini File Photo

Members of ROTC attend The Tri-Service ROTC Veterans Day Ceremony at the Armory on November 11, 2014. Columnist Hayley Nagelberg highlights a fundraising effort by the Illini Veterans RSO to raise money for a burned-down veterans house in Danville.

By Hayley Nagelberg, Columnist

A house in Danville, Illinois has been used specifically to accommodate veterans for nearly 20 years.  Less than two weeks ago, this house erupted in flames and one veteran wound up passing away from injuries sustained in the fire, while another four veterans were displaced.

After hearing about this tragedy on the news, the veteran students on this campus decided to rally together to help their fellow military men.

The Illini Veterans student RSO, Veterans Student Support Services and the Center for Wounded Veterans joined together to launch a drive to collect winter clothes for the veterans who were displaced in the fire.

They took to social media a day after the fire to campaign for their clothing drive, and collection baskets were filled instantly.  They received so much support from the campus and local community that the clothes are going to be distributed amongst other centers in need and into clothing closets for others who need assistance.

There are roughly 500 military-connected students on this campus between those in reserves, different guards or dependents. They look out for each other in every way – from integrating into campus life, to receiving assistance with classwork, to finding housing and social opportunities.  They run a military kick off event to start the semester and a 5K every spring where the proceeds are  donated to the Veterans Center so they can continue providing all of their services.

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Brent Blackwell, the student president of Illini Veterans, said that the students on campus heard about the fire on Thursday when it happened, and had their plan in motion to start a clothing drive by Friday.  He said their community on campus genuinely saw what was needed and instantly wanted to know how they could help.

When he went to check on the collection buckets Monday morning, they had already overflowed.  By the end of the week, there were numerous buckets full of clothing all around the Center waiting to be brought down to Danville.

These students banded together, but as a community we should all be more aware of how we can help out.  The veteran population is a significant part of our community, and as wonderful as it is for them to have resources amongst themselves, they should not be made to feel they have to have their own community separate from the general body.

These students saw the power of social media combined with word of mouth.  They are well respected in the community and can get projects like this accomplished quickly.  But we should all be taking part.

Jason Sakowski, the coordinator for Veteran Student Support Services spoke of the opportunity to band together over this fire.  He said he saw a need in the community and knew that members of this campus community could be able to have a direct impact on that need. “I have this thing where people post online about what’s going on in countries where they can’t do anything about it.  It irks me.  This is right here and something we could do” he said.

Helping the specific individuals from this fire may be taken care of, but the opportunity we have to be working with the Veteran community on campus could be just beginning.  Whether it’s following their efforts on social media, or participating in their 5k or other events, we need to stand unified as a community.

Hayley is a sophomore in ACES.

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