By Christie Tavera
Senator José Menéndez and community leaders honored veterans Wednesday when they broke ground for the new Victory Center.
More than 200 community leaders, students and faculty gathered to witness the history-making ceremony.
With a budget of $28 million up for grabs, Senator Menéndez was described as a “champion” by District 5 trustee Roberto Zarate, for his effort in securing 32 percent of that funding for the new project at this college.
“Normally, things don’t work this quickly,” Menéndez explained. “When I came along a year ago, and asked if you have plans for a future building, they were ready to go. So I was able to hit the ground running in Austin. This was an opportunity that met someone prepared to take advantage of it.”
The Senator referred to his invitation last year by adjunct faculty member Margaret Richardson to speak at her political science class. While on tour of the campus, the Senator noted his surprise that the current location for veteran affairs in the Moody Learning Center was such a small space.
This college serves more than 3,000 veterans and their families. This is the same number of veteran students served at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
When he introduced the Senator as the ceremony’s keynote speaker, President Robert Vela explained how “with the help of key people at SAC” he was able to provide a proposal to the Senator for the potential Victory Center.
He also said the senator took that proposal to the state Senate “without hesitation,” to request funding.
In addition to the $7.6 million secured for the center, Alamo Colleges will receive a total of $9 million in funding to build and improve other training centers.
Victor Hernandez, business sophomore and president of the Student Veterans Association, said in his remarks the Victory Center will help veterans transition back into civilian life.
“Education is a must,” he said. “My goal is to see that we only move up and we start graduating more veterans.”
Having served in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2006-2013, Hernandez is very familiar with how difficult it can be to transition.
Hernandez recalled seeing Menéndez recently at a banquet and thanking him for giving the veterans the help that will allow the building of the new center.
Hernandez said the senator’s response was veterans are getting what they already fought for.
As an all-encompassing facility, the center will allow for an innovative Instructional Academy offering career and technical education courses. Plus, VA and Hazlewood certification, financial aid, enrollment and registration assistance, as well as job training, academic advising and psychological and emotional support.
Menéndez recognized all of the veterans in attendance and although he spoke about the significance of the future building, he reminded the audience, “What is going to make this building different is going to be the people who will come through it. It is going to be the people who will be in it waiting to help veterans.”
Menéndez also reminded the audience, “when we fight for our vets, we fight as Americans.”
He explained the “budget win” came from prioritizing veterans and military families.
“It’s not just them serving; it’s the families.”
This college has the second largest student veteran population in the state of Texas, veteran affairs Coordinator Trey Kelly said.