Columbia Basin College honors fallen soldiers
A financial endowment made a world of difference to at least one veteran attending Columbia Basin College.
Melinda Carmona, the director of the Veterans Education and Transition Services Center, choked back tears Thursday as she told the story about the student during a Memorial Day remembrance event.
“They were embattled with suicidal ideation and were struggling between paying bills and seeking that help,” Carmona said. “Through the generosity of Mrs. Sue Frost, the financial barrier between them and the help they needed was lifted.”
“It’s a difference felt today, because today, one less flag is in the ground.”
While this was one of the more dramatic stories of 11 veterans who have been helped because of Frost’s donations, it isn’t the only one, Carmona said.
Endowment will grow to $1 million
The college announced that Frost, a former Port of Kennewick director and commissioner, was making a series of donations to set up a $1 million endowment to help veterans attending Columbia Basin College. The first $250,000 donation was announced during the Memorial Day event.
The emergency fund allows the center to cover the kinds of expenses that the GI Bill won’t, such as books, tools or in some cases rent. Even with the GI Bill, many of the students have families to take care of, and the housing allowance offered by the funding isn’t always enough to pay the entire cost.
“It’s really a means to meet the students’ needs wherever they may be, stay in school and earn that degree,” Carmona said.
Mattis meeting was the spark
All of this started with a meeting between Frost and former U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis nearly a year ago. Frost attended a speech Mattis made at Gjerde Auditorium during one of his visits to the Tri-Cities.
“My life hasn’t been the same since,” she said. “What was already in my heart came to full fruition. ... It became obvious to me that I needed to help here when I heard him speak.”
So Frost turned to Columbia Basin College President Rebekah Woods and asked how she could help.
A few months before Mattis’ appearance, the VETS Center started asking for donations to a fund for struggling veteran students. They were hoping to collect $10,000.
Frost donated that in one lump sum, and then asked what more she could do.
“We never expected, especially within the year of establishing this, that we would be at $250,000 and expecting $1 million over the next four years,” Carmona said.
Woods said she was excited that they would be able to help thousands of veterans that otherwise may not have stayed in school.
People can reach Veterans Education and Transition Services by phone at 509-542-4880, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.