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Student Establishes Veterans Club to Connect with Peers, Help Community

Club provides an outlet for military personnel as they transition to civilian lifestyle

U.S. Marine and Veterans Club President Nicholas Quinzi of Tampa, Fla., center, puts letters written by local students in SHU’s Sunshine Kids program into a care package for fellow student Jake Arpin who is currently serving in the U.S. Air Force. At right is fellow Marine Matthew Walsh of Watertown, Conn. The vets were on hand to help out at the Hearts United care package event.

About 18 months ago, Nicholas Quinzi realized Sacred Heart University needed a club for students who also were veterans. Quinzi, 31, a United States Marine and junior at SHU studying psychology, said before he started at the University, he attended a community college that had a veterans club. “It really made going to school okay,” he said. “It made the atmosphere a lot better.”

When he came to SHU, he thought the campus should have veterans club too. He met with the appropriate faculty and staff members and then, through word of mouth, he started meeting veterans. “I wanted students to know there was this club; I wanted student vets to know we had their back and they could count on someone to talk to about whatever they were going through,” said Quinzi, who is president of the club. “I just wanted to make sure no one gets left behind.”

Knowing the high suicide rates among veterans, Quinzi said he wanted to do everything he could to make sure SHU veterans had support.

His grassroots effort paid off. He connected with SHU graduate and assistant wrestling coach Derek Moore, who is vice-president of the graduate student chapter of the Veterans Club, and senior David Russo, who is vice-president of the undergraduate chapter.

“There are many benefits to having a veterans club on any campus,” said Moore, who served in the United States Army. “The SHU Veterans Club provides a social network for transitioning military personnel as they make the change to the civilian lifestyle. Being around others who can relate to military experience and understand the challenges of a military lifestyle creates a familiar and comfortable atmosphere.”

Not only does the club benefit its veteran members, but Moore said having a club also creates awareness among the general student body on campus.

Gary Rose, club adviser and chair of SHU’s government, politics and global studies program, said it’s important for students, faculty and administrators to understand veterans’ academic and personal needs and to “know in an intimate fashion those men and women who have put themselves on the line for our country. By having a veterans club on campus, they should develop a greater appreciation for what it means to serve in the military. With less than one percent of the American people in the armed forces, a veterans club brings to light what so few have done for so many.”

As adviser, Rose makes suggestions concerning activities for the club and acts as a sounding board when asked. Rose said club members are slightly older than most other students and are “both self-directed and internally motivated.”

There are approximately 100 student veterans at SHU, Quinzi said, and about 15 students are involved in the club. Russo, Moore and Quinzi are trying to change that and hope the club will continue to grow.

“This is our second year as an official club on campus, and our major goals are to increase membership and awareness,” Moore said. “We continue to hear from student veterans who were not aware there was a club on campus for them, and we hope to ensure every veteran knows not only that there is a club, but what that club offers.”

While the club provides a network for veterans, it is also an outreach group for the community. “There is a whole range of activity, thanks to the excellent veterans who are running this club,” said Rose, who specifically gave credit to Quinzi.

“We are active in community service throughout the year,” Moore said, “with programs such as speaking engagements at elementary, middle and high schools, kayaking with Vietnam veterans, mentoring kids and raising money to send care packages for our brothers and sisters serving overseas.”

Russo, 35, who served in the United States Navy, said club members will attend a Veterans Day function at Darien High School, where they will discuss their military experiences and answer teens’ questions.

Click here for more information about SHU’s Veterans Club.

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U.S. Marines Ken Young of St. Louis, Miss., Matthew Walsh of Watertown, Conn., and Nicholas Quinzi of Tampa, Fla., spoke to students in the Sunshine Kids program about their experiences in the military. Walsh, facing at center, tells a story from his time in boot camp. All three are members of the Veterans Club.