Allegheny Veteran’s Service, a club sparked by similar passions and a single phone call, was approved by Allegheny Student Government on Tuesday, Nov. 14.
Founded by both Jesse Tomkiewicz, ’20, and John Fazio, ’19, AVS was created to help veterans in the Meadville community.
While discussing politics, President Donald Trump and the state of the country over a phone call this summer, the idea was born.
“We were complaining about the status of the country and how the divide [between parties] is getting out of hand,” Tomkiewicz said. “This led us to what do people agree on? What are people passionate about across aisles? It’s veterans.”
After reaching out to Assistant Professor of Political Science, Andrew Bloeser, Tomkiewicz and Fazio were then put in contact with Alexis Hart, associate professor and director of writing. Hart is a Navy veteran herself, and led the founders of AVS to Lilac Springs, a non-profit organization in Meadville dedicated to helping veterans, according to Tomkiewicz.
Starting at the end of September, members of the club would head to Lilac Springs which is run by Marsha and Anthony Pedone, located approximately six and a half miles south of Allegheny College. While volunteering for a few hours on the weekend, ASV members will do everything from gardening and outside projects to helping the owners write letters asking for donations, according to Fazio.
“If the weather’s good we’ll work on projects such as digging a trench for a labyrinth,” Fazio said. “Tony who is a psychologist researched and found if veterans walk through a labyrinth it’s very beneficial.”
In the center of the labyrinth lays a pile of stones and each stone represents a veteran from Pennsylvania who died in combat, according to AVS’s treasurer James DiPerna, ’19.
Secretary of AVS, Lena Gemmer, ’20, was part of the first outting and became involved with AVS after Hart put her in contact with Tomkiewicz.
“I’ve already had a past involvement with veterans when I was part of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps Band of the West where we would support veterans through music,” Gemmer said. “Our program played at numerous locations such as memorial services, retirement homes, we even went to Washington D.C. for the anniversary of the end of World War II.”
USNSCC is a youth cadet program in the Navy with many members going through a military boot camp before joining, according to Gemmer. Civilians can join the program as well as long as they meet the level of musicality. It’s the only sea cadet program in the nation.
“When I came to allegheny I wanted to continue helping veterans in anyway possible,” Gemmer said. “I think it’s really important, especially for college students to get involved with a club like this because there are a lot of veterans in the Meadville community and if students get involved with this club, we can directly help people who live in the immediate area.”
For a new club on campus, a lot of students have showed interest, according to Tomkiewicz and Fazio. By adding more members, both founders hope there will be sustained interest in the club even after they graduate.
“The vision that we had was that we wanted this to be something that was sustainable long after we left Allegheny, we wanted this to be a club that’s here 10-15 years after us,” Fazio said.
The club hopes to host a veteran’s appreciation week in the spring and each semester following that. During the appreciation week they plan on selling t-shirts and buttons and possibly having a Mission 22 challenge, according to Tomkiewickj. Mission 22 is doing 22 pushups for the 22 veterans who commit suicide every day in the U.S.
“These people get wounded in combat and people forget about them,” Tomkiewicz said.
Between 11 percent to 20 percent of veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, along with 12 percent who served in the Gulf War and 30 percent who served in the Vietnam War according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
Lilac Springs focuses not only on vets, but vets who suffer from PTSD. Many of these veterans tell stories that their wives haven’t even heard because they’ve kept them bottled up for over 30 years, according to Tomkiewicz.
“To help in any way, to help the veterans that are suffering from the lingering effects of their services, it’s something we’re passionate about, it really comes naturally,” Fazio said.