Education student and U.S. Air Force veteran Alain Grimmet was walking one morning when he noticed a sign in a window of Cherry Hall 239 reading, “At Ease Zone.” Inside, he discovered a small study room and lounge specifically for student veterans.
In association with the Student Veterans Organization, the At Ease Zone is dedicated to the approximately 400 student veterans at UMKC. Although the study lounge is suffering from a lack of exposure, word is starting to spread.
“It’s here to help veterans transition from the military world to the more civilian, scholastic world,” Grimmet said, adding that it can be difficult for many veterans to connect with the mostly younger traditional students who haven’t spent time in military life.
“They feel like they kind of don’t really belong with [the] normal student body,” Grimmet said, “so this gives us a place that we can meet other veterans – people that understand what life experiences we have.”
This feeling is echoed by many student veterans. Megan Coleman, one of the work-study attendants for the study lounge, says that she loves connecting with veterans especially since it’s more difficult to find people whom they relate to.
The At Ease Zone Facebook page says that it can be tough for student veterans to be separated from the support system they recently left.
“Throw in an unfamiliar system which is nothing like the military, has no clear chain of command, and is full of people who can’t even fathom the world you came from,” one post reads, “and you are likely feeling a bit isolated, even alienated.”
That’s why the UMKC School of Social Work is helping sponsor this program. The school has donated the room and three computers to the effort and has even put a practicum graduate student to work in the At Ease Zone.
After spending 32 years in the Army, Suzanne Wheeler retired as a colonel and is studying social work in the graduate program here at UMKC.
Wheeler spends several hours a week in the At Ease Zone, applying her education in social work to help veterans improve their lives. With the Student Veterans Organization, she is coordinating campus resources and students with other veterans’ groups around the city, such as the Veteran’s Village and Team Rubicon.
Staffed only by student veterans who are paid for by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, the At Ease Zone offers two computers for study, coffee, and plenty of information to network student veterans with programs and people around campus. They’re soon getting some couches to make the place more comfortable.
“A little hard to find … but it’s nice to have a quiet place just for vets set off to the side,” said Grimmet. “If I hadn’t seen that sign, I would’ve never known it was here.”
Open since March 2015, the At Ease Zone is still young but becoming more well-known. It serves as the hub of the Student Veterans Organization, which has meetings there on Wednesdays at noon, but its main purpose is connecting people.
One student veteran, Michael Walker, said that he only knows about the At Ease Zone and other veteran resources “because of the amount of digging and discussions I’ve had with people.”
To get the word out, the staff are planning a student veterans’ event for Veteran’s Day.
“It’ll be like a new student orientation just for veterans,” said Wheeler. “We’ll have a picnic, probably burger and hotdogs, things like that. But also we’ll have people from organizations to help vets, from both on and off campus.”
For more info on resources that UMKC offers visit: umkc.edu/veterans/
To help support veterans around Kansas City, check out: teamrubiconusa.org or veteranscommunityproject.org.