As we enter the giving season, I can’t help but think about how influential my upbringing has been on my attitude about giving. Growing up in a small community, where I knew just about everyone in town, it was customary to help others out in time of need. Especially when a tragedy occurred, a hospital stay, and even at the birth of a new baby, people seemed to surround each other with compassion, support and food. That is the small Texas town way of doing things.
I grew up watching my mother and grandmother helping people by assisting with chores and bringing groceries and food to people who were in need; however, when anyone wanted to help out my family and bring food to us, it was always customary that we give them something in return. In our household, you did not accept a gift without giving something in return, which usually was whatever was cooked and being stored in the refrigerator. However, my mother did not always follow her own golden rule. When she would do something for me or give me something, and I tried to reciprocate, she would say, “Be a gracious receiver.” I suppose that meant, to accept the gift and don’t make a big deal about it.
During the giving season, there are so many opportunities to give something without expecting something in return. Living in the greatest country in the world and being blessed in a land of plenty, a great pleasure of mine is to be able to instill in students the importance of collecting food, canned goods and other supplies for people who are less fortunate than we are. Each year, our Student Government Association organization participates in the annual Hill County “Food for Families” drive, as well as the Johnson County Pet Food project. Our commission in education is to educate both in and out of the classroom. This means teaching our students to go beyond themselves and go forth and do good for others. During Hurricane Harvey, it touched my heart to witness our student groups organizing and gathering supplies and necessities to ship to the Gulf Coast.
In a time of such turmoil in our country, it is refreshing to think about those who give their lives in sacrifice to our country. Our men and women in the service do not expect anything in return. They give freely to serve their country and protect our freedoms. Some grew up knowing that they would answer the call to service. Others, oftentimes, choose to serve because their fathers, grandfathers, or other family members have served. Whatever the reason, there is no way that we can ever express enough gratitude and appreciation for these brave men and women who served or are serving our country. As is cited in Rotary, “Service Above Self,” and there is no better place to observe this than our military.
Part of the mission of Hill College is to serve veterans and offer programs and services the soldiers need to be successful, whether in active duty or upon return from tour of duty. At Hill College, it is our priority to assist veterans with the transition to civilian life and earn a skill, certificate and/or degree. Last year, we served 94 students who received Veterans Assistance (VA) benefits.
Thanks to legislation, benefits to assist veterans with acquiring an education is a way to give back to these men and women for their service to our country. The following are the various chapters of benefits available to veterans and their families:
Chapter 33 — Post 9/11 GI Bill offers higher education and training benefits to veterans, service members, and their families who served a minimum of 90 days on active duty after Sept. 10, 2001.
Chapter 30 — Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty assists active duty and reservists with the pursuit of higher education degrees, certificates, and other education and training for those who served at least two years on active duty.
Chapter 1606 — Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserves are benefits for students who were a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard Reserve Army National Guard, or Air National Guard.
Chapter 35 — Survivors and Dependents Education Assistance benefits veterans dependent spouse or child of a veteran who is permanently and totally disabled due to a service-related condition or veterans who died while on active duty or as a result of a service-related condition.
Chapter 31 — Vocational Rehabilitation with Service Connected Disabilities benefits veterans who have received discharge that is other than dishonorable. They must have a service connect disability rating of at least 10 percent or a memorandum rating of 20 percent or more from the VA Department and apply for Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment VetSuccess services.
Additionally, last year the college exempted tuition and fees for 73 veterans and dependents of veterans through the Hazlewood Act, an exemption program offered through the Texas Veterans Commission. The Hazelwood Act provides qualified veteran’s spouses and children with education benefits of up to 150 hours of tuition and fee exemptions at state supported college or universities.
Other ways that we as educators can “give back” is to offer prior learning assistance (PLA) by awarding credits toward military courses taken and giving credit toward veteran’s current degree plans for their military service. A good example of this is retired Army Sgt. David McWilliams Jr. of Grandview. McWilliams, upon retiring from service in 2013, enrolled in our cosmetology program. He said he decided to go to college because “they” said he couldn’t. He said that others felt he would not have the cognitive ability to retain information due to an injury sustained during deployment.
In McWilliams’ words, “When we moved to Grandview, I did some research because I wanted to attend the best college around. Hill College was it. I’ve had nothing but positivity since I’ve been here. The reason why I got into cosmetology is because when I was deployed, I was the only barber for 3,000 people that had any haircutting experience. So, for seven months straight I would do 400 haircuts a month. I ended up getting injured and that took a lot from me. So when they said I couldn’t do something, I proved them wrong. And here I am, in 2018, doing what I love. In the future I plan to help veterans through cutting hair.”
I am amazed at the stories that I hear from our veteran students, such as McWilliams. Not only have they given selfishly for their country, without expecting anything in return, but also, have humility and a passion to give back to others, especially their comrades.
This is truly what the giving season is all about. Just like the song says, “Reach out and touch somebody’s hand, and make this world a better place if you can.”
An absolute necessity for Hill College is to have a veteran’s specialist who has a passion and calling for working with veteran students. Cindy Clay has been serving in this role for over 17 years, along with the assistance of certifying officials such as Lisa Branham, records & student success coordinator, and Kathleen Pustejovsky, director of student information services.
With the upcoming celebration of Veterans Day, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the men and women who have served or are serving our country and encourage you to make a special effort to let veterans you meet know how much their service to our country means to you.
With the upcoming giving season, I encourage you to go forth, do good for others, and be a gracious receiver.
Dr. Pam Boehm is
president of Hill College