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Converted room at WCCC dedicated as lounge for veterans

| Thursday, March 3, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Philip McCalister, president, WCCC Educational Foundation Board, places his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance during the dedication for a Military Student Lounge, a converted classroom to provide a quiet space where military students can go to relax, study and socialize.  A $4,500 donation from the Rotary Club-Greensburg made the lounge possible.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Philip McCalister, president, WCCC Educational Foundation Board, places his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance during the dedication for a Military Student Lounge, a converted classroom to provide a quiet space where military students can go to relax, study and socialize.  A $4,500 donation from the Rotary Club-Greensburg made the lounge possible.
Julio Martinez, stationed with the United States Army Reserve's 14th Quartermaster Detachment, looks inside Westmoreland County Community College's Military Student Lounge, a converted classroom utilized as a quiet space where military students can go to relax, study and socialize.  A $4,500 donation from the Rotary Club-Greensburg made the lounge possible.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Julio Martinez, stationed with the United States Army Reserve's 14th Quartermaster Detachment, looks inside Westmoreland County Community College's Military Student Lounge, a converted classroom utilized as a quiet space where military students can go to relax, study and socialize. A $4,500 donation from the Rotary Club-Greensburg made the lounge possible.
Guests look at the Military Student Lounge, a converted classroom at WCCC to provide a quiet space where military students can go to relax, study and socialize.  A $4,500 donation from the Rotary Club-Greensburg made the lounge possible.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Guests look at the Military Student Lounge, a converted classroom at WCCC to provide a quiet space where military students can go to relax, study and socialize. A $4,500 donation from the Rotary Club-Greensburg made the lounge possible.

Veterans have a way of finding one another in a college classroom, but the addition of a lounge dedicated to military students at Westmoreland County Community College will make it easier to make those connections, students and officials said Thursday.

“Transitioning home from a military lifestyle is not an easy task for a lot of people,” said former Army Spc. Richard Balko, an education major at WCCC.

Balko told several dozen attendees at the military student lounge's dedication ceremony that he would always be willing to lend an ear to a fellow veteran in the lounge who needs to talk.

“I talk a lot, but I'll shut up for them,” he quipped.

Using a $4,500 donation from the Greensburg Rotary and donations from several area businesses, WCCC's military student services team transformed a former classroom in Founders Hall into a lounge for student veterans and those actively serving.

Room 760, identified as the military student lounge with a green placard above the door, has two black leather armchairs, a table and chairs for eating or studying, a small refrigerator, microwave and single-serve coffee machine. Flags from the five branches of the military, as well as the American and POW flags, adorn the walls.

“It's kind of an honor to see how the college appreciates” veterans, said Julio Martinez, 35, of South Greensburg, who graduated from WCCC in May and served in Iraq from 2006-07.

Martinez said when veterans meet, they typically exchange details about what they did, how they did it and why. He imagines those kinds of conversations will start in the lounge.

“Once that's out of the way, you can start to help with homework,” Martinez said.

A national study done last fall found that veteran populations in Southwestern Pennsylvania counties range from 9 percent to 12 percent, one of the densest populations in the country, said John Scassellati, part of WCCC's military student services team and a former staff sergeant in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

WCCC has more than 200 active duty military students and scores of student veterans, WCCC President Tuesday Stanley said.

“It's truly humbling to be part of this ribbon-cutting today,” Stanley said. “This lounge is long overdue.”

More than a half-dozen speakers offered their thanks to veterans for their service.

“We are living in the land of the free because of the brave,” said Gina Cerilli, chairwoman of the Westmoreland County commissioners.

State Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, said that with the world being so dangerous, it doesn't matter in what branch of the military students served — “You're making a big sacrifice to protect us.”

“It's nice to see an actual living, useful tribute to our veterans,” Ward said.

Kari Andren is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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