Thanks to grants, MTSU Daniels Center assists military-connected veterans through stress of COVID

Jan 14, 2021 at 07:15 am by WGNS

Along with his dog Loki, MTSU student veteran Orrin Farmer visits the MTSU Veterans Memorial site outside the Tom H. Jackson Building on the west side of campus recently. An aerospace professional pilot major, Farmer, who was in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years, was one of dozens of military-connected students who received assistance from a United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties $10,000 grant in 2020, providing help to he and his wife during the stressful COVID-19 pandemic. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Military-connected members of the Middle Tennessee State University community found themselves beneficiaries of numerous grants — helping Orrin Farmer and dozens more survive life in general, college life and more during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

MTSU’s Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center requested and received more than $80,000 from the Tennessee Community CARES to assist veterans and their families in need of emergency assistance ($34,668 for food and housing), case management to access benefits and workforce training and to secure meaningful employment because of COVID impacts.

The United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties’ $10,000 grant to the center provided food, shelter and more to the recipients. More recently, a Bob Woodruff Foundation $10,000 grant and $5,000 Journey Home Project grant will provide additional emergency relief.

“These grants have done a lot of good,” said Lori Ogden, development officer for the center, who added the funds not only assist MTSU student veterans, “but veterans and their families in the community. Any military- or veteran-connected individual can benefit” if they provide documentation they are a veteran or military-connected.

Ogden said both grants and two others are to help recipients “overcome the effects of COVID-19. They have experienced financial hardships. This helps them stay in school and enter the competitive civilian workforce with college degrees.”

Ogden, Daniels Center Director Hilary Miller and center staff have seen student veterans and family members lose full- and part-time jobs, lack money for food and housing and more during the pandemic.

In sharing news of the grants to abut 10 campus staff and administrators, Miller said, “This is a big deal. I am about to explode; I am so happy.”

They included Keith M. Huber, Debra Sells, Elizabeth Wilburn, Nancy Martin, Pat Thomas, Leann Eaton, Natalie Scothern, Nina Endsley and Ogden.

Huber, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general with a 38-year military career, is MTSU’s senior adviser for veterans and leadership initiatives. Sells is vice president of Student Affairs and vice provost of Enrollment Services.

Miller said a huge “thank-you” is due to “all those who have helped. Please know, you are all appreciated by me, and more importantly, by the others.”

The Orrin Farmer story

Farmer was one of many recipients. A former U.S. Marine, Farmer, 29, who moved to Murfreesboro with his wife, Holly, from Casper, Wyoming, to pursue an aerospace professional pilot degree, received nearly $950 from the United Way grant, assisting with their August mortgage.

“It was perfect timing and gave us a great sense of relief,” said Farmer, acknowledging how the grant money helped them. “This opportunity was amazing. We didn’t have to worry. We did not have family here to lean on. We are extremely grateful. It was a very generous donation. It helped our year go a lot smoother and a little less rough.”

Farmer said the funds they received “helped close the gap” after he and Holly were laid off because of the pandemic. Since then, she has returned to work and he returned part-time. He added that “it made it feel like we were part of the MTSU veterans community” and established relationships with Miller and center staff, especially Ray Howell, who assists with VA benefits.

One of Farmer’s aerospace pro pilot goals is to become a flight instructor at MTSU’s Flight Operations Center at Murfreesboro Airport.

The $80,119 Tennessee Community CARES Grant

This grant allowed the Daniels Center to assist more veterans and their families who were in need of emergency assistance, case management to access benefits and workforce training to secure meaningful employment because of COVID-19 impacts.

Part of the grant provided $22,678 for housing and $11,990 in food for dozens of military-connected families.

MTSU’s request for these funds included:

- Obtaining personal protective equipment to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

- Veterans and their families receiving up to $1,000 in emergency housing assistance for rent, mortgage or utilities to avoid eviction, foreclosure and homelessness.

- Veterans and their families receiving up to $550 in emergency food assistance.

- Veterans/family members receiving assistance to help them access VA education and disability benefits, mental or behavioral health counseling, health care, housing and other community, federal and state resources to overcome the effects of COVID-19.

- Veterans and their families receiving workforce training, including resume assistance, mock interviews, military-to-civilian workforce transition seminars and connections to a network of employers ready to hire veterans and their family members.

Grant administrator Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee awarded the funds to the Daniels Center through the MTSU Foundation.

Tens of thousands of grant dollars were awarded to hundreds of nonprofits across Tennessee. Recipients included other colleges and universities.

The United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties Grant

The $10K funding benefited 11 veteran households and 31 total residents, providing food and shelter, said Ogden, an MTSU alumna with a degree in marketing from the Jones College of Business.

The local United Way established a COVID-19 Relief Fund early on to assist those most affected by the pandemic, and the Daniels Center was among grant recipients.

“Because of the generosity of local donors and corporate supporters, many Rutherford and Cannon county individuals had an opportunity to receive meals for their families, stay in their homes or find safe shelter,” said Casey Warren, vice president of Development and Engagement for the United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties and an MTSU alumna.

“Because of the generosity of local donors and corporate supporters, many Rutherford and Cannon county individuals had an opportunity to receive meals for their families, stay in their homes or find safe shelter,” she added. 

In all, the local United Way awarded 11 grants totaling nearly $95,000 to local nonprofits, providing direct services to individuals out of work as a result of the pandemic, Warren said.

$10K Bob Woodruff Foundation Grant/$5K Journey Home Project

The Daniels Center received a recent  $10,000 grant from the national Bob Woodruff Foundation. The Journey Home Project recently gave $5,000 in COVID relief funds to the center, with co-founder David Corlew personally delivering the check. Both grants will combat food insecurity for student veterans and their families.

About the Daniels Center

The Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center, named for the late Country Music Hall of Fame member and his wife, Hazel, serves more than 900 veterans and family members monthly, both virtually and in-person. The 3,200-square-foot suite is located on the first floor in the Keathley University Center.

The center is a one-stop-shop to meet a wide range of academic, career and social needs. It is designed as a place where veterans can see other veterans, ask questions. And receive the trusted assistance needed to transition successfully to the civilian workforce.

The center has established relationships with many community partners.

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