After receiving an e-mail from the Davis Honors Challenge listserv, military veteran and junior comparative literature major Charles Anderson decided to write a proposal for a scholarship that would allow him to educate veterans about the government aid they are eligible to receive.
As a result, Anderson will receive $10,000 through the Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship. Starting Fall 2011 his campus club, Fighting For Those Who Fought, will seek dedicated UC Davis volunteers to help homeless or at-risk veterans apply for governmental benefits.
The Strauss Foundation funds 10 to 15 public service projects that are implemented by California college juniors during their senior year. Since its inception in 1997, the foundation has awarded this civic service scholarship to 17 UC Davis students.
Anderson’s outreach program would extend to communities from Stockton, Oakland, Berkeley and Reno. Most of Anderson’s scholarship award will go towards maintaining club expenses such as transportation, food and paper.
“I want to make it as low impact to the student [volunteers] as possible. I don’t want them to have to pay for gas and food. If I can get them to the shelter[s], students who might not otherwise be able to do it will participate,” Anderson said.
With volunteers interested in law, civic service and governmental work, he hopes to help homeless and at-risk veterans realize their benefits.
“I’m a veteran,” he said. “I figured that with as much trouble as I was having, surely a lot of other veterans were having trouble [with paperwork] too.”
Anderson said many veterans have little experience with the complex paperwork and reading required to assess eligibility for certain governmental programs. He also said he would bring in Veterans Affairs representatives or legal advocacy specialists to train volunteers.
Yolanda Torres, UC Davis’ Veterans Affairs advisor, said she would give Anderson her full support. She also said the paperwork can be overwhelming for veterans.
“This is such a deserving population that is going to be assisted by this grant,” Torres said.
B.G. Wright, professional staff member of the House of Representatives’ Committee of Appropriations, said he read Anderson’s proposal and supported the cause.
“I found that [the proposal] was a selfless acknowledgement of something college students don’t normally do,” Wright said. “There are lots of vets out there that have no means of knowing what benefits are out there and have no ways of finding out.”
According to the 2009 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, 16 percent of homeless adults are veterans. On a given night, California holds nearly 26 percent of all homeless veterans in the nation.
In light of this report, President Barack Obama, along with congressional leaders, has declared an initiative to end veteran homelessness by 2014.
“We’re not going to be satisfied until every veteran who has fought for America has a home in America,” Obama said at a Disabled Veterans of America conference in 2010.
Anderson said he does not want Fighting For Those Who Fought to be considered political or partial to veterans over the general population.
“I think that anyone interested in fighting homelessness should be able to see the benefit of helping this population, regardless of veteran status … I want students to realize that this is the first step in fighting a much larger problem,” Anderson said in an e-mail interview.
One of Anderson’s major goals is to keep the club alive after he graduates. Wright believes it is not only sustainable, but will spread to other universities.
“[The club] will be something that will last beyond the life of his scholarships and extend to other colleges, not only in California, but also around the country,” Wright said.
GRACE BENEFIELD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.