Local Students Work to Empower Veterans
This Wednesday at Harvard Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Harvard College Veterans Engagement Initiative (HCVEI) will be hosting the first of a series of seminars aimed at empowering Boston’s veteran population. The seminar on personal finance techniques and strategies, taught by business school professor Luis Viceira and hosted in partnership with the Small Business Administration, will offer free admission to veterans and their families.
Opportunities like these are vital in the post-9/11 world. Millions of our nation’s young men and women have spent time in the past decade in uniform serving our country in Iraq and Afghanistan. As our forces have left Iraq and are beginning their withdrawal from Afghanistan, our soldiers are returning home to an America blighted by unemployment and depressed opportunity.
We’ve been hearing plenty from politicians that the American dream is not what it used to be – a lifetime of honesty, hard work, and integrity is no longer the guarantee of prosperity it once was. This is known all too well by our nation’s veterans, who find themselves coming home to disproportionate unemployment statistics, tough transitions back to domestic life, and too often a sense of indifference from local communities.
But there’s another reality that speaks volume toward the underlying trends in our society. Despite the fact that America’s “War on Terror” is the longest war since the nation’s founding, the smallest percentage of the population in our history has served in uniform during the conflict. The past few years have seen positive examples of our nation’s continued commitment to service, whether domestic or military – the Ted Kennedy Serve America Act of 2008, the largest expansion of national service in history, an example – but as a nation we’re still in the midst of a conversation concerning the role of service in our society.
HCVEI, a student-run project, is committed to generating programming which develops closer ties between the civilian and veteran communities both at Harvard and within the greater Boston area. The vital link which makes this possible is a commitment to service shared both by veterans who have dedicated so much to our future and by civilians ready to do the same.
Following the example set by ServiceNation coalition partners like The Mission Continues, the Harvard College Veterans Engagement Initiative has identified veterans as valuable allies in the pursuit of elevating service in the national mindset. We know that our returning soldiers are not charity-cases, but useful partners in this endeavor. These mothers, sisters, fathers, and brothers are ripe to be challenged, empowered and equipped with the tools that enable them to lead our communities forward.
HCVEI’s seminar series will continue throughout the spring, offering the skills veterans may need to reach their goals as they transition back into civilian life. From Harvard professors to local non-profit leaders, there is broad support for expanding veterans’ access to the tools and resources from which they could benefit. But the achieved outcomes must reach beyond that – HCVEI is developing a broader pattern of engagement between the too often disjointed civilian and veteran communities. Leveraging these flourishing ties through service is a mechanism for positive community development and empowerment.
Alex Palmer ‘12, HCVEI’s co-founder and a former intern at The Mission Continues, describes HCVEI’s mission: “To help integrate returning veterans through service, and to build a culture of service on Harvard’s campus and beyond.” By facilitating and encouraging student leadership, Palmer suggests the seminar series is part of a “much larger effort to ensure that veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan use their experience and knowledge to become citizen leaders at every level.”
The sophomore who spearheaded this project, Naji Filali ’14, imagines this seminar to be only the beginning: “Maybe one day campuses in every metropolitan area will employ similar techniques to help those who have already given so much.” This seminar might be just a start, but perhaps it will spark a deeper connection between the resources of our nation’s educational institutions and our brave soldiers who possess so much potential but would perhaps benefit from a little direction.
ServiceNation and the like-minded HCVEI recognize the long-term nature of the vision toward which they labor, and the importance of building an underlying infrastructure that yields opportunities for empowerment through service. Students represent our future, and their habits and actions are an indication of our future values; veterans are an embodiment of service, sacrifice, and dedication. The connections developed between them go a long way toward establishing a strong commitment to service within our communities. As HCVEI’s seminar series grows and expands, the possibilities will expand with it.