Michael Cooper knows firsthand the challenges that go with transitioning from military to civilian life.
There’s often a period of confusion after a person leaves the service on just what their goals should be, the Hummelstown man said Thursday.
A former Army staff sergeant, Cooper was deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq and is now an employee of the veterans department of Harrisburg Area Community College.
He was among the guests at a lunch meeting of the Rotary Club of Carlisle where the Rotary Veterans Initiative presented HACC with a $30,000 check in support of education and job training programs for veterans.
Raised from the proceeds of an annual golf tournament, the money will be used to provide 20 scholarships of $1,500 each to assist student veterans with nondegree certifications, said Rick Coplen, chairman of the initiative run by members of both the Carlisle and Mechanicsburg North clubs.
Certifications covered include public safety, health care, commercial drivers’ licenses and manufacturing, logistics and environmental technology.
In November 2015, the RVI was known as Helping a Hero, Central PA when it donated $25,000 to HACC with $10,500 funding seven scholarships and $14,500 funding 29 textbook purchase vouchers of $500 each.
This January, RVI donated $10,000 to Central Penn College with $3,000 allocated for two scholarships and $7,000 allocated for 17 vouchers of $400 each for students to purchase digital devices, Coplen said.
He said another $25,000 was donated in February to the Harrisburg campus of Penn State University to pay for six scholarships of $1,500 each and 32 textbook vouchers of $500 each.
RVI has either helped or is earmarked to help 128 student veterans in the three colleges. Aside from funding, the program offers mentoring to the veterans in industry specific skills and resume writing.
“We help veterans help themselves and their families,” Coplen said. “They have that special spark of public service-mindedness and determination that makes them invaluable assets to our communities.”
“We thank the Rotaries and their membership for all they have done,” said Dean Myers, director of military and veterans affairs at HACC.
Cooper served in the Army from 2003 to 2012 as a signal intelligence analyst. In his civilian job at HACC, he helps fellow veterans navigate from start to finish the process involved with applying for their education benefits under the GI bill.
“Any program that reaches out to veterans is going to be a phenomenal asset to them,” Cooper said of the Rotary Veterans Initiative. “It provides a pipeline that military veterans can use to transition more easily.”
Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Funk serves with the Pennsylvania National Guard as the readiness noncommissioned officer of the 1st Battalion, 108th Field Artillery. In that capacity, he makes sure the soldiers have what they need from an administrative standpoint when they report for their weekend and summer drills.
“I do what I can to help them,” said Funk, a 16-year Army veteran with two deployments to Iraq. He said RVI scholarships and vouchers help fill in gaps in military benefits.
John Anthony is president of the Rotary Club of Mechanicsburg North. “Helping young veterans in their quest to become schooled in their chosen field is one of our club’s top priorities,” Anthony said.
RVI is an outgrowth of Helping a Hero, Central PA, which locally provided funding for the construction of two specially adapted homes for severely injured veterans.
The local Rotary clubs made the transition to RVI to have a greater impact on a larger group of veterans, said Coplen, a retired Army lieutenant colonel. “We put our heads together and went with education and training. We all recognize the value of helping people transition out of the military to go on and do great things.”
To donate to RVI, write the check to “Rotary Veterans Initiative” and mail it to RVI, P.O.Box 303, Carlisle, PA 17013. People or groups who wish to collaborate with RVI can email Coplen at firstname.lastname@example.org.