Transcript of Road Home Program: The Podcast, Episode 16
“Veterans need more than just their benefits processed. They need camaraderie. They need community. They need support and resources.”
College of DuPage Veterans Services Manager, Sheri Gross, shares the ways her team assists with education and financial benefits for the veteran-military community.
Will Beiersdorf, Executive Director at The Road Home Program at Rush: So, good day to everybody joining us here for the Road Home Program, the podcast. I got to remember it’s called the podcast, Chris Miller always gives me a hard time about that. I’m Will Beiersdorf. I’m the Executive Director of the Road Home Program. And today’s Road Home Podcast, we’re talking with a great partner, peer and friend of the Road Home Program, Sheri Gross, who is the manager of Veterans Services for the College of DuPage, veterans and military Student Services Center. Hopefully, Sheri, I got that right. Again, we’re really grateful to have you on board with us. And then looking forward to sharing with our audience, the work and the things that you’re doing, you know, for veteran and military students at the College of DuPage. But before I kick-off, in talk with Sheri, for there might be some folks joining us for the first time on this podcast, I just want to just take a quick moment to share who Road Home Program is. So again, the Road Home Program here at Rush University Medical Center. We help military veterans, as well as, whether they’re veterans current, you know, current drilling National Guard Reserve this, or even active-duty members and their families, who are battling the invisible wounds of war and life. And we’ve been doing this since 2014. And I just realized, we, we’ve crossed, we’re getting close to almost having served 3,000, you know, veterans and family members. Again, those dealing with PTSD, again, post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma, you’ll hear it referred to as MST, folks with traumatic brain injuries, TBI, and other challenges that service members or veterans may be facing. And, and again, you know, when we talk about the Road Home Program, we want to talk a little bit of, we always want to highlight our mission, vision and values. And basically real simply said, the mission of the Road Home Program is to compassionately and care for and serve veterans and their families, you know, dealing with the invisible wounds of war in life. And our, you know, our vision is to be a champion for veterans and in our core values. And it’s funny, as I’m saying this, because I know Sheri will remember this because sharing also used to work with us here, but our values are what Rush calls the ICARE values of innovation, collaboration, accountability, respect, and excellence. And we live and do all that here at the Road Home Program. So, so having said that, a little commercial on the Road Home Program, I want to introduce our guest, Sheri Gross. So, Sheri, take a few minutes and tell us about yourself, you know who you are, and what you’re doing at the College of DuPage.
Sheri Gross, Veterans Services Manager at the College of DuPage: Sure. Thank you, Will, and thank you for that Road Home refresher. I hadn’t heard the ICARE values in way too long. Like Will said, my name is Sheri and I work at the College of DuPage as the Manager of Veterans Services. But, I’ll tell you a little bit about myself and then tell you about C.O.D. So, I live in Chicago. I have my whole life except for when my husband served in the military. We lived mostly in Colorado. I myself did not serve but he did serve eight years in the Army. So, I joke that he’s my meal ticket because I’ve been working with veterans since 2008, either in mental health or higher education. I keep flip-flopping back forth between the two. We have three kids and two dogs and life is a little bit crazy, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Todd, my husband, is currently now a police detective. So, that’s fairly common within the military community, going from military service to civil service. So, I worked in mental health with veterans on active duty starting in 2008. And then moved on to higher education when we moved back to Chicago, at St. Xavier University on the south side where we live. And then I moved on to Road Home. I was at Road Home for between four and five years, from the almost very beginning until last year in July of 2020, I came here to, to C.O.D. At Road Home, I was a Community Outreach and Engagement Coordinator and I worked primarily with family members and spouses and, and events and all that as you remember, Will. And I’ve been here at C.O.D. for about 15, 16 months. I mean, it’s been interesting. I started during the pandemic when all the buildings were closed. So, it’s been a, it’s been a great start. As you can see, this is my office where, if people can see, I don’t know. We’re, we’re back on campus now about half time. About 50% of our classes are being offered on campus or hybrid with partial campus time. And we’re hoping to increase that in the spring. We have about 1,000, any given semester, military-connected students and we define military-connected as veterans active duty, currently serving, Guard Reserve and family members. And out of those about 1,000 Students any given semester, we, this semester have between 350 and 400 students using military benefits whether they are state or federal benefits. And those can be veteran, Active Duty, dependents, same population, and those students have to use our office to use those benefits. So, we touch about probably half of the military population here on a pretty regular basis each semester. But anything military-affiliated comes through our office. So events, things like that.
Will Beiersdorf: Yeah, that’s great. And again, I can’t believe, that’s right you were with us for almost five years,
Sheri Gross: IOP, too.
Will Beiersdorf: And, you know, I just want to I forgot to make this plugin a highlight, as we’re talking about the Road Home Program, again, we talked about the invisible wounds of war and the challenges of PTSD and MST and other things that we do here. But, you know, we provide outpatient, and just a little forgot to say this, so I apologize, but we provide outpatient services for folks that are local. And again, you know, you know, not just veterans and military service, you know, active duty, reserve guards, but also families. I mean, family is a big part of the work we do. But as you just touched on, Sheri, the Intensive Outpatient Program, which again, you know, were here from the beginning, when we developed that Intensive Outpatient Program It’s basically it was a three week now, it’s a two-week program, where we provide this intense, you know, therapy around cognitive processing, therapy, and a variety of other things, where people come to us and stay with us. It used to be three weeks, now it’s two weeks. And what we’ve learned over these past five, six years and doing the IOP is that it has an incredible impact on, on veterans lives, and really changing their PTSD and helping them get back to living life, right? And getting back on track. And, Sheri, you saw that firsthand. But again, I wanted to share with our audience, if you would like to learn more about the outpatient or IOP, you can go to Road Home Program, that’s all one word roadhomeprogram.org. Or you can call us at 312 942 8387 or 312 942 VETS. So, fantastic. All right. So, hey, let’s get back to you, Sheri, because it’s not all about Road Home and Will. But, you know, I’m thankful for you know, you came, you came to Road Home, you provided some great services, and now you’ve taken that, you know, that to, to C.O.D. to the College of DuPage. So, tell us a little more about some of the, what exactly goes on, you know, in your center? Like, what are what are the services or the programs that you provide a high level? Because, you know, it just seems like you offer a lot. There’s a lot of different things. And also family members, right? Again, those that are, that have that access to the, you know, to those post-9/11 benefits, I believe. You know, so, so tell the folks a little bit about the program and services. And then also, you know, how do they get connected, right? How do they, how do they find out about that, so, please.
Sheri Gross: So, I’m not sure if you know, but C.O.D. is the largest community college in the state of Illinois. So, originally, our office started as just a place where students had to come to get their benefits processed. To get the school paid, to get them paid, depending on what benefit they were using. And, as you well know, and one of the reasons why Road Home came to be is that veterans need more than just their benefits processed. They need camaraderie. They need community. They need support and resources. So our office grew and, right now, I currently have a team of five plus me. And then we have student workers who are also veterans that go to school here. So, we have a certifying official who I always say is the most important person on the team, because she’s the one that talks to the VA the most and gets the students what they need from the VA. We have a Degree Audit Specialist who makes sure that the students are going through their programs appropriately. We have two Veterans Support Specialists that do a lot of our resourcing for students, troubleshooting, connecting to different departments within the college outside, within DuPage County and beyond. And just the, the case-by-case basis type folks. And then we also have an Admin that does our front office and oftentimes is the first person that students see or, you know, see via email now or via Zoom when they come to us as new students or returning students. And, like I said, our student workers are also our frontline office folks, because they’ve been through it. They, you know, got out of the service, decided to go back to school, use their benefits, and the application process for benefits and everything can be kind of confusing, especially if you’re using multiple benefits at once, which students can, so our student workers are able to walk our new students and returning students through everything they have to do to make sure that they, they get the most out of their education here. So, that’s the staff and that’s pretty much what our office does on a pretty general basis. We also handle all the military events. We’re gearing up for Veterans Day. It looks a little different this year again, like last year, just because of COVID. We’re not having any large gatherings Traditionally, C.O.D. has had a pretty large ceremony, Veterans Day ceremony, with a color guard and a luncheon and all that. And we just, we can’t do that this year. So, we’re doing it on a much smaller scale. But we’re excited about it, just to be able to be back here. And we also have a Student Veteran Lounge, which is directly upstairs from our office, which is a place where student veterans and military-affiliated students can go just to get away from the hustle and bustle a little a little bit. So, there’s computers there that have access to a printer. In the Before Times, like I like to say, there would be you know, snacks and coffee and that kind of thing. We don’t have any food out right now, but students are still able to access it. We have a good amount of students that are on campus coming to us that. In lieu of a computer lab or the library. It’s a smaller, more intimate place. We have you know, collateral from organizations like Road Home there and that kind of thing. So we offer we offer that as well.
Will Beiersdorf: Great. Excellent. Yeah. Just real quickly, what is, if people want to find learn more, just real quickly, is there, what’s the website, what’s, you know, what’s the number? What’s the, how’s the best way for folks to learn more? And I didn’t realize that you guys are the biggest community college. That’s impressive. I like it.
Sheri Gross: I’m reading it off our card here. I never call myself. So, our mainline, phone number is (630) 942 – 3814. Um, and that, if, if we’re not in the office, which we usually are now, but if that goes to voicemail that’s answered within a day. And our email contact, it’s just firstname.lastname@example.org. And then, if you go to the C.O.D. website, and type in “veterans” in the search box will come up. But our website is chock full of information, about admissions, about using your benefits, about ways to get into contact with us. If people aren’t comfortable coming to campus, we still have all the online class options. And we also have Zoom appointment options. Before students would have to come in and drop off paperwork. Now, we can take everything electronically. We actually currently have a student living in Germany, taking classes here. So we can, on a military base in Germany. Yeah. So, I mean, the things we’ve been able to do virtually since COVID, it was a little bit of a rough start, like everyone, we had to you know, adjust everything. But we’re pretty much a well-oiled machine now. And we work really closely with our counseling and advising office with our students. And also, we’re under the umbrella of Financial Aid. So, we, we make sure that, you know, all the financial stuff for students is straight as well.
Will Beiersdorf: Good. Excellent. Excellent. Thanks. And, again, if you’re just joining us, I’m Will Beiersdorf, Executive Director, the Road Home Program, and this is the Road Home Program, the podcast. And again, I’m with Sheri Gross, who is the Manager of Veterans Services at the College of DuPage, you know, Veteran and Military Students Center and Sheri’s been telling us about the work she does for the student veterans at College of DuPage and how to access, you know, and learn more. So, um, you know, so let’s take a step back here, and let’s, let’s talk about our collaboration in the work that we do. And again, we’re and again, I’m so grateful that you worked here, so you know, firsthand, so you can be the advocate. But, but tell us about, you know, again, if someone’s listening, you know, learning about that, you know, but some of the other things you do around trying to connect veterans, you know, these students to particular services. So, I’m sure you’ve come across times where they might be struggling with financial things, or this or that or a variety of things. or sometimes unfortunately, and sadly, might be challenged with, you know, they might have PTSD, right? Or some something’s going on in their life and there’s some challenges. Depression, anxiety or other things. So, so talk to folks about how we work together here at the Road Home and with you at the College of DuPage, about connecting folks to our services and the process of that.
Sheri Gross: So, being a community college in DuPage County, we are obviously very well connected to the DuPage County Veterans Assistance Commission and all the organizations out here that DuPage offers in terms of you know, Heinz is out here we have the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans. But, of course, as you mentioned, Will, I worked at Road Home and I know how amazing it is. I know the great work that you guys have done and continue to do. So, I have a soft spot in my heart for the services you guys provide. And even through not being on campus and not being able to meet students personally until this summer, I talk about Road Home a lot to staff and to students. So, if we have a student that’s struggling, and especially now with the Telehealth, I always refer to Road Home, whether it be to connect them with one of the Outreach Coordinators, if they want to talk directly to a person right away, to the website, if they want to have someone contact them, I always thought that was great, because a lot of times making the phone call is so hard for people but being able to fill out a form and have someone call you to make that first step, I think it’s great. And then of course, the IOP is so important and that’s a little bit harder for students. As I often talked about when I worked with you guys at Road Home, taking that time off school can be difficult, but the fact that, you know, cohorts go year-round, and they can do a split, with the two weeks now it’s a little easier, too, I assume, in the summer or on breaks, or taking a short leave of absence from class if that’s absolutely necessary. But, a lot of the times with, with issues around mental health and physical health on campus, especially now, my office works a lot with access and accommodations. And the Dean’s Office works a lot with our faculty to make sure that students are taken care of in and outside of the classroom. And Road Home and organizations like it are a big part of that. Because we know it’s really hard to focus on school when you know you don’t have a roof over your head, or you can’t get out of bed in the morning. Those basic needs need to be met first.
Will Beiersdorf: Oh, you’re right, you’re exactly right. And again, what Sheri was referring to when she said the IOP, the Intensive Outpatient Program here at Road Home Program. It’s a two-week program. And, you know, we do have one-week programs. You know, we’ve experimented and worked with those. We do have one week and we actually are, you know, again, we’ve, we’ve done some virtual, you know, IOPs in the past. You know, again, you know, there’s, there’s different options and things that are available. So, if people want to learn more about that, students or even family members, yeah, and hopefully, you know, might be some moms or dads or brothers, sisters, others that know that they have, you know, their peers there, you know, some of them, some of our family, it’s a veteran going to C.O.D. You know, we’re here to help. You know, we’re basically your backup, right? Because we want students, we want to help them or their family members that are going through school. When they come across those challenges, we want them, we want to help you, you know, help them be successful and complete their mission of getting their two-year degree or certification or whatever they’re working on. So and, you know, that brings me to the point of a lot, you got a lot going on at College of DuPage, you know, just generally. And I came across this, this Staff Sergeant Robert J. Miller, Homeland Security Educational Center. And again, he lived in DuPage County. You know, I apologize, I’m not sure if he attended, did he attend C.O.D.? I don’t think he did.
Sheri Gross: I don’t think so, no
Will Beiersdorf: But he, but he died, you know, in battle, you know, against terrorism here. And so, you know, they honored him with this. Can you tell people about that center, and just again, the things that go on just real quickly? Because it was really pretty impressive, you know, and what, what kind of training and education goes on in the Homeland Security Educational Center.
Sheri Gross: So, that is across campus for me, but I have been quite a few times. It’s a beautiful building. If you have a chance to come out and see it, we do have a steel beam from the World Trade Center there that’s on display daily. It’s part of the building. And our Police Academy is run out of there, the Suburban Law Enforcement Academy, you’ll hear me refer to it as SLEA. Because you know, we all love our acronyms. And that has, you know, classes of recruits going year-round. Any veterans that go through the Law Enforcement Academy come through our office and you know, hear a whole spiel about using their benefits and utilizing the resources we have here in Veterans Services. We also have EMT classes, we have a whole Fire Science program there. Yeah, yeah, there are instructors from all different kinds of civil service or, you know, Homeland Security disciplines. We actually have a faculty member that was at Ground Zero at 9/11 for several months after at the World Trade Center.
Will Beiersdorf: That’s pretty, you know, Sheri, I decided stop right there. That’s pretty impressive. I mean, there’s a lot going on there. And that’s, that’s just incredible. And again, I just want to reiterate, if people want to learn more, you know, you can go to the College of DuPage website, and you can search and do it, do that, you know. I’m, I want to be cognizant of time, you know. So, just wanted to ask one, real quickly, again, how can folks get connected you learn more about the services you provide? And just one last thought about the work you’re doing at C.O.D. for veterans.
Sheri Gross: Sure. Just the contact information again, you can contact us at email@example.com via email or (630) 942 – 3814 via phone or you can always stop by. We’re in the Student Services Center, which is the main building that, you know, the cafeteria is in, right by Admissions. So, we’re pretty easy to find. And there’s someone here from 8 to 5, Monday through Friday. We are staffed in person right now. And I just want to encourage people to just explore your options. We hear from a lot of students that they get out of the military, and they don’t know what to do. But they know they want to use their benefits. So, just informed decision-making and come talk to, to staff members that can help you through it. Same thing with mental health, like you don’t have to do it alone. You don’t have to do school alone, either. That’s why offices like mine exist, at most places now. So, we’re here to help even if it is just to get you started thinking about school. There’s no obligation to come here if you come talk to us. So, our doors are open. Yeah.
Will Beiersdorf: Good. Good. Well said, Sheri. Well, again, I want to thank you again, Sheri. Again, Sheri Gross, the Manager, you know, of Veterans Services at the College of DuPage Veteran and Military Student Center. Again, if you want to learn more, Sheri shared with you that information, and if you want to learn more about Road Home Program and the services we provide, you can go to Road Home Program, it can all one word roadhomeprogram.org, or call us at 312-942-8387. It’s 312 942 VETS. And again, Sheri, thank you again for your time today. Best wishes to you and your family. And again, thank you for all the great work that you’re doing, you know, at the College of DuPage. And also, I know you do a bunch of other things, but just being an advocate. So thank you.
Sheri Gross: Thanks for having me. It was good to see you.
Will Beiersdorf: Yeah, same. Have a good day
Sheri Gross: You, too. Bye.
About Road Home Program: The Podcast
Veterans have served our country, now it’s our turn to serve them. Road Home’s Will Beiersdorf talks with veterans and their families about their journeys transitioning to civilian life. During every episode you’ll hear from subject matter experts, like Rush clinicians, staff and community partners, discussing resources and services available to veterans to help them heal from the invisible wounds of war. Subscribe, download, or listen to other Road Home Program podcast episodes.
The Road Home Program provides mental health care and wellness to veterans of all eras, service members, and their families at no cost and regardless of discharge status. If you or a loved one needs help, call us at (312) 942-8387 (VETS) or fill out the Get Care form.