PORTLAND — Students at the University of Southern Maine are coming together to set up a fund to improve the educational experiences for veterans at the university. 

Stephen White, a member of USM’s chapter of  Student Veterans of America, said the group is trying to raise $25,000 by the end of next month. 

Half the money would go toward establishing a fund for student-veterans to tap into when their education benefits run out.

“We work with students veterans who receive education benefits as part of their source of income while they are in school. The problem is that doesn’t last for how long it takes some people to get a degree,” said White, who served in the Air Force in Anchorage, Alaska, as a staff sergeant from 2000-2005. “The solution is not coming in policy change. We all know how budgets are going these days. This is our answer to help USM students complete their degrees.”

The money would help students who are within just a few classes from graduating, but whose education benefits have expired. How many students the funding helps, White said, depends on who applies and where they are in their education. White said he would like to have the program up and running by fall.

White said although he will be able to earn a master’s degree in social work before his benefits run out, others are not as lucky. He said he has friends who have to save up money to take classes, only to then have to take time off to save up more money before taking additional classes.

The funding, White said, would also allow Student Veterans of America to plan and fund events and activities that help student veterans to connect with, and add value to, their communities, as well as provide services to student-veterans who are “building their professional networks, investing time to meet academic requirements and engaging with other students.”

Funding would also be used to strengthen the connection between the university’s Veterans Services Office; Green Zone Staff and Facility Military Awareness training; Peer Advisers for Veterans Education; Veterans Resource Center and USM’s Husky Veterans chapter of Student Veterans of America.

“A big part of making that transition from military to civilian is feeling connected to a new group of people and a new way of life,” White said. “What we want to do is make sure we keep veterans connected through activities and events.”

To help do that, the group plans a number of outings, including recent events at Easy Day bowling alley in South Portland and snow tubing at Seacoast Adventure in Windham.

“It’s not about the will or desire to succeed. It is about keeping that connection because in making the transition (from military to education), it’s very difficult to maintain self-esteem when it seems you aren’t doing anything valuable. The transition programs we run, and pay for, keep veterans from feeling isolated,” White said.

To raise the necessary funding by the end of April, the group has partnered with several local businesses for giveaways throughout the month. Tickets can be purchased at https://goo.gl/mkAkBm.

White sad he would like to thank all the businesses that have agreed to be part of USM Husky Veterans’ community giveaway.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x125 or [email protected].