URBANA – December 6, 2012. Governor Pat Quinn today visited the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to announce $4 million in Illinois Jobs Now! capital funding to help build the Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education. The new center will help returning Veterans with disabilities readjust to civilian life and provide vital rehabilitative, counseling, academic and career services to support wounded warriors as they achieve higher education. The governor was joined by Assistant Secretary of the Army Thomas Lamont, philanthropist Ron Chez and university leaders including Provost Ilesanmi Adesida and Lt. Col. Eric Stetson of University of Illinois ROTC.
“Our servicemen and women sacrifice years of their lives to protect our country and when they return, they deserve support in earning the degrees and dreams that so many postponed,” Governor Quinn said. “Our wounded Veterans face unique challenges, but they should not face them alone. The Wounded Warriors Center will keep Illinois a leader in helping returning members of our armed forces achieve their dreams.”
The state-of-the-art Wounded Warrior Center will combine 24-hour comprehensive support to prepare severely wounded veterans to live independently and to successfully pursue their educational and career goals. The center will house offices for supporting programs, research spaces, a fitness center, residential units for up to 12 occupants, a teaching kitchen, a conference room, tutorial support spaces and a lounge. The facility will also be LEED Gold certified.
“More than 60 years ago, wounded WWII veterans began returning home only to find that access to a college education would be denied to them because of the injuries they had sustained in their service,” said University Chancellor Phyllis Wise. “In 1948, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, under the leadership of Professor Timothy Nugent, began to address this wrong, founding the world’s first comprehensive program of higher education for individuals with disabilities. That commitment has never wavered and we live in different world today because of his program and the dedication of all of those who have followed Dr. Nugent. The Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education will be the newest addition to that long legacy that began here and that will always be among our proudest accomplishments.”
The $12 million facility also is the beneficiary of a $6 million charitable pledge by U.S. Army Veteran Ronald L. Chez, who graduated from the University of Illinois in 1962 and is now president of his own financial consulting firm and chairman of Champaign-based Epiworks. Chez has been a strong supporter of efforts to help students with disabilities succeed in higher education, previously pledging $1 million to establish a scholars program that provides financial assistant to students with special needs. Additionally, the University has been working with donors to raise the final $2 million for the facility.
“There is no way that we can adequately compensate for the courage and service of our wounded Veterans,” said Chez. “It is our special opportunity to honor these heroic men and women and their families by helping to provide the services and facilities they require. I cannot think of a higher priority for private citizens and government than to provide opportunities for education and independence to those who have served all of us.”
Since its inception in 1948, the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has sought to advance the educational, social and vocational participation of people with disabilities through the collaborative promotion, provision and/or pursuit of innovative accommodations and educational services, and interdisciplinary disability research. DRES has made historic strides in interdisciplinary disability research – including wheelchair bus lifts, curb cuts and accessibility standards – many of which resulted from the applied disability research and/or educational outreach of its faculty and staff.
This fall, Governor Quinn and the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs launched Illinois Joining Forces, a new statewide public-private partnership that will improve support for servicemembers, Veterans, and their families. Modeled after the national Joining Forces initiative, IJF is spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden and seeks to increase collaboration and communication among non-profits and public agencies serving Veterans at the local, state and federal levels. Through IJF, participating organizations will work together to address gaps in services for job training and placement, healthcare, education and housing, actively refer veterans and servicemembers in need of assistance and offer better navigation of available resources and service to the public. To learn more about IJF, visit www.IllinoisJoiningForces.org.
For more information about other programs for Illinois veterans and servicemembers, visit www.OperationHomefront.org.