Donation to fund house for veterans

by Rebecca Asoulin | 4/1/14 7:29pm

A New Hampshire veterans advocacy organization plans to purchase a residence for veteran students at Dartmouth, thanks to a $375,000 donation, the organization announced last week. The donor, an unidentified veteran’s family, will contribute the money if the organization, Project VetCare, raises an additional $100,000 to meet the house’s price before its May 31 closing date.

Project VetCare plans to rent the proposed house, located on Lebanon Street about half a mile from the Hanover Co-op Food Store, to three or four undergraduate veterans, chairman and co-founder Robert Chambers said.

Chambers said the need for the house became apparent during his interactions with veteran students, several of whom intern at Project VetCare. Although many veterans integrate well into dorms, for others, he said, the transition can be difficult.

“Most of them are combat veterans,” Chambers said. “They’ve been fighting in the war, and they are now in their mid-twenties in a dorm with 18-year-olds, many who are away from home for the first time in their lives.”

The property, which is approximately 3,000 square feet, has a large dining room, living room, kitchen and additional study spaces, Chambers said. The house, he said, could serve as a space for veteran-hosted events like open houses during fall football game weekends.

Eighteen undergraduate veterans are enrolled at Dartmouth, the highest number since 2007. Over 130,000 veterans live in New Hampshire, including 8,000 in Grafton County, according to Project VetCare’s press release.

The organization’s Board of Directors began fundraising for the project late last fall, planning for the campaign to last several years, Chambers said. Project VetCare intended to purchase a $200,000 house in West Lebanon to rent to interested veterans, but adjusted the plan once the donors suggested the house for students in Hanover and pledged to pay a significant portion of the overall cost.

“This family just blew our minds,” Chambers said. “It’s a huge amount of money, and we were flopping around on the floor when we found out.”

Around 10 other donors have contributed funds, Chambers said, including former College President James Wright.

Rent payments will contribute to other Project VetCare work, the press release stated.

Undergraduate dean and Dartmouth undergraduate veterans association faculty advisor Kent Yrchik-Shoemaker said that while the veteran students he advises believe that the initiative has promise, they were not involved with or aware of Project VetCare’s plans. Most students learned of it on Monday when The Valley News published an article about the house, Yrchik-Shoemaker said.

“It was a shock to them to hear that someone had bought a house with that intent when it wasn’t a priority for them,” Yrchik-Shoemaker said.

Billy Peters ’15, who has lived in College residence halls and affinity housing, said he believes the house may be an attractive option for undergraduate students if it is in good condition, its rent is affordable and the commute to school is not too long.

Trevor Forbes Tu’15, a former Marine, said he might have considered living in the home if he were an undergraduate but believes that most graduate students, many of whom are married, will opt not to live there.

Forbes said a residence could increase interactions among undergraduate and graduate veterans whose paths do not cross regularly.

“If nothing else, veterans have different perspectives, and this allows them to share experiences and commiserate,” Forbes said.

Michael Rodriguez MALS’13, co-founder of the Dartmouth Graduates Veterans Association, agreed that the house could help students create “lasting connections,” but he was unsure if enough students would be interested to keep the house full each term.

Chambers, a Vietnam War veteran, founded the non-profit with Danielle Goodwin, the wife of a veteran, in the fall of 2012 to aid veterans in the Upper Valley. The organization helps veterans apply for benefits, runs an emergency food bank and organizes seminars at Hanover High School, where veterans speak with students about their experiences.

“I felt like there was a negative attitude about veterans,” Chambers said. “Veterans were kind of hidden in pockets, and they kept quiet.”