The Post 9-11 GI Bill granted veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan a myriad of benefits including tuition money for college or trade schools. But those benefits have limits.
“We’re all aware that veterans receive GI benefits and several different levels of GI benefits,” said Michael Ayres, a development officer at University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. “What none of us ever thought about was that these benefits expire or they can use them up.”
Ayres said the campus has about 125 student veterans and found that it’s not unusual for some student veterans run out of money before their schooling is finished or encounter an emergency need for funds.
So initially, USF Sarasota-Manatee looked at providing emergency scholarships to student veterans to cover those gaps in funding for anything from books and tuition to money for an electric bill.
They established a committee to evaluate the student veterans’ needs and then focused on raising the money.
What started as a small project the university grew quickly thanks to the partnership with the Patterson Foundation. Its funds come from the Patterson family which has long and distinguished history of military service.
One of the foundation’s projects is building a 2,800 seat amphitheater at the Sarasota National Cemetery. The Patriot Plaza idea is to give the community a place to honor veterans and reflect service to the country and the cost of freedom.
“We in our true Patterson fashion go, well, we can’t do anything one dimensional we have to do multi-dimensional things along the lines of military,” said Patterson Foundation President and CEO Debra Jacobs. “So, we decided during this year plus of construction period that we would create the Legacy of Valor campaign.”
That campaign identified more than 100 community organizations dedicated to honoring veterans, inspiring patriotism and embracing freedom. And then the Patterson Foundation decided to add another dimension. It selected 12 organizations and offered to match funds each raised over a 30 day period.
The USF Sarasota-Manatee veterans’ emergency gap scholarship was one of those programs chosen for the matching funds challenge. The university raised more than $19,000 and with the Patterson Foundation match it totaled of more than $38,000.
“They came back to us and said, ‘Instead of for current scholarships, could we use the Patterson match to help seed this endowment?’” Jacobs said. “And we love endowments. We think endowments are wise decisions. So we again showed our flexibility and said, ‘Oh my gosh, yes.”
But the story didn’t end there.
“I did quite frankly a Google search looking for something local what can I do to help veterans and education,” Greenhause said. “I wanted to tie those two things together. And I found the University of South Florida. I called them and I was just going to donate scholarship money they actually suggested this fund.”
Greenhaus contributed $10,000 toward the student veterans’ scholarship endowment after reading about funding cutbacks.
“Somebody that has basically put their life on the line for the country and giving me the ability to raise a family, have a business. I didn’t want them to not be able to go to school, not have an education because basic utilities maybe can’t be met,” Greenhaus said.
So, that’s how a community came together to establish an endowment for the estimated 125 student veterans at USF Sarasota-Manatee. And the story continues as the university works to grow the endowment fund to $100,000 and as the individual student veterans get help to continue their education.
Ayres said funds are currently available for USF Sarasota-Manatee student veterans in need. The committee is ready to review requests. The university is purposefully not defining the exact amount of the emergency gap scholarships. Instead, they want to be flexible to the veterans’ needs, just like their donors.