Veterans Center getting some upgrades with grant from Veterans United Foundation

by | Nov 10, 2021

The $17,200 donation will pay for physical improvements to the student lounge, including new furniture and a coffee bar, to enhance students' experiences.
Representatives of the Veterans United Foundation present a check to staff in the UMSL Veterans Center

A group of employees from Veterans United came to UMSL on Oct. 21 to present Robin Kimberlin, Josh Evans and others with a $17,200 check from the Veterans United Foundation to make improvements to the UMSL Veterans Center lounge in Clark Hall. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Josh Evans had an idea something was up on the afternoon of Oct. 21.

Robin Kimberlin, the director of student advocacy and care at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, had told Evans, the coordinator and certifying official in the UMSL Veterans Center, to keep his calendar open around 2:30 p.m. and to dress nicely.

So that tamped down a bit of the surprise when a group of Veterans United employees, including former UMSL student Ruby Ficklen, walked into the Veterans Center carrying an oversized check for $17,200, intended for improvements to the center’s student lounge space in Clark Hall.

“Everybody was still really excited,” Evans said. “I know vets there in the center, especially those that were there that day, they use the center often, and they’re really excited for the support.”

So too was Evans.

“It’s important that we keep up to date on things that make our center attractive for our student veterans,” Evans said. “We want them to know that they’re taken care of by UMSL, that the university puts forth the effort to take care of its veterans and supports them as they continue their educations and finish their educations and helps prepare them to be leaders in our community and our country.”

The grant was among $10 million in planned gifts the Veterans United Foundation has been awarding to military-based and community-centered charitable organizations to mark the foundation’s 10th anniversary. Veterans United is headquartered in Columbia, Missouri, and more $8 million has gone to organizations in the state.

Veterans United employees got to nominate charitable causes to receive funding under the program.

Ficklen, who works as a loan specialist for Veterans United but was once a social work practicum student at UMSL, had contacted her former supervisor, Kimberlin, this summer to discuss nominating the Triton Pantry. But Kimberlin – who’d recently taken over leadership of the Veterans Center – thought a donation to the center might be even more appropriate given the provider.

They started working on a proposal, including a description of the Veterans Center and the role it plays helping UMSL student veterans adjust to college life – both as a place to find resources, such as help getting GI Bill benefits certified – and camaraderie with fellow student veterans, whether they’re hanging out between classes or studying for an exam.

“The current space has the basics, but the furniture and equipment are mostly hand-me-downs from other offices or are close to 10 years old,” Kimberlin wrote in the proposal. “With support from Veterans United, we hope to be able to fully realize the potential of this physical space and to create a truly top-grade student lounge for our veterans.”

Kimberlin got help from her sister, an interior designer, to assess the space and plan upgrades.

In addition to furniture upgrades in the student lounge area, Kimberlin and her sister hoped to create an inviting welcome area with inspiring wall created behind the check-in desk.

They also devoted a lot of attention to a new coffee bar.

“A big part of the veteran culture, especially in veteran spaces, whether it’s out in the community or at a VFW hall, is always having a hot pot of coffee on,” Kimberlin said.

Kimberlin encountered that same thing last summer when she was familiarizing herself with the Veterans Center. She found a rack filled with coffee mugs, each one belonging to a student who regularly visits the center and enjoys a cup.

“I was so tickled,” Kimberlin said. “I thought it was the coolest, neatest thing. Immediately, I knew I wanted to make something of that.”

Kimberlin’s sister imagined a space with two bar top tables and accompanying stools, modular cabinetry and a new coffeemaker and refrigerator. And, of course, a larger rack for more coffee mugs.

They needed the funding from the Veterans United Foundation before they could start trying to make it a reality.

The foundation accepted a number of proposals and gave employees the chance to vote on which ones received funding with each employee receiving five votes. Ficklen told Kimberlin that when she got to work the day of the voting, the Veterans Center project had already been fully funded.

“I thought that was really cool and exciting,” Kimberlin said.

The upgrades are slated to begin this spring, and Kimberlin has heard nothing but gratitude from the students who regularly visit the center.

“I’d love for this to be just the beginning,” she said. “We’d really like to increase the technology in the space. You see other really cool high-tech student spaces on campus with charging stations and those little desks, like at the airport, where you can sit and plug in your laptop. I’d really like this to be the beginning of us updating the space and making it really functional for the student veterans, as well as warm and inviting.”

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Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik

Eye on UMSL: Global exchange
Eye on UMSL: Global exchange

Provost Steven J. Berberich presents an UMSL sweatshirt to Han Liming, who visited St. Louis over the weekend as part of a delegation from its sister city in Nanjing, China.

Eye on UMSL: Global exchange

Provost Steven J. Berberich presents an UMSL sweatshirt to Han Liming, who visited St. Louis over the weekend as part of a delegation from its sister city in Nanjing, China.

Eye on UMSL: Global exchange

Provost Steven J. Berberich presents an UMSL sweatshirt to Han Liming, who visited St. Louis over the weekend as part of a delegation from its sister city in Nanjing, China.