Clemente Veterans’ Initiative
Over the next five years, a million veterans will return from deployment overseas.
Many of them will return with physical and emotional challenges that make
transition back to civilian live particularly daunting.
"Clemente came at a very low point in my life. It kept me focused on something other than my circumstances and fears. The confidence I've built and the connections I've made have allowed me to complete two fellowships and a yearlong national service to AmeriCorps. I've found employment, and I am enrolling in a bachelor’s completion program. I owe all of that to Clemente."
– Clemente Graduate, 2016
The Clemente Veterans’ Initiative supports struggling veterans who wish to find meaningful ways to re-engage with their families and communities, fosters civic engagement, and serves as a bridge to higher education. The curriculum is designed to appeal to to military and veteran culture while at the same time incorporating texts that offer new, non-military perspectives for community engagement and life choices: Plato, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Simone Weil and Martin Luther King.
VETERANS FIND RESONANCE AND COMMUNITY IN CLEMENTE
Established in 2015, the Veterans’ Initiative was launched with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Teagle Foundation, and generous individual donations. Exploring questions of war, civic duty, family, and sacrifice, it offers veterans a chance to place their personal experience in a broader perspective. And it reinforces a critical sense of community that is often lost when veterans return to civilian life.
“Veterans are deeply changed by their military experience, whether or not they’ve been to war,” says Jeb Wyman, academic director of the Veterans’ course in Seattle and editor of the book, What They Signed Up For, a collection of interviews with veterans. “One of those changes is a profound sense of community with other veterans. Clemente offers students a way to recreate this sense of community in civilian life.”
Clemente also offers these veterans the opportunity to engage intellectually with a community of peers facing similar challenges, and to move out of their often self-imposed isolation.
“This program has helped me start to learn again. I have a Traumatic Brain Injury and learning has been very challenging for me. I feel like the nerve endings in my brain have started growing again.”
– Clemente Graduate, Class of 2017
Research shows that 88% of veterans drop out of college in their first year and only 3% ultimately graduate. Many choose not to start college for fear of failing, and the reality that they will be required to pay back Veterans Administration benefits if they do not finish the classes.
This makes Clemente especially valuable, according to Joan Sisco, executive director of Veterans First, host of the class in Phoenix, which is dedicated to women veterans. “A lot of military come home not physically or mentally ready to go to college, especially if they are dealing with PTSD and other war injuries” she says. “In Clemente they are encouraged to engage in discussions and learn to express themselves. The professors guide them to open their minds and think differently about their own potential so that they have the confidence to complete their education.”
“The secret magic in this program is that there is soul. We get in touch with ourselves on a deeper personal level and although some of us may feel like fragments or pieces, we use language to once again find or embrace our identities, who we are.”
– Clemente Graduate, Class of 2016
Clemente helps these veterans prepare to be successful in other college classrooms as well, a critical issue for those who may feel estranged from their younger classmates or out of place in the civilian world.
As a 2016 graduate put it: "Let's face it, veterans suffer much mental stress, injury and heartache. Clemente seems to offer veterans a place to start moving through their emotions with a guided curriculum. They are able to get out of their heads and into other valuable forms of thought. They are able to put some of their stuffed frustration and shame into words through pen and paper or paintings or discussion. I believe Clemente exposes veterans to talents, skills, and desires they may not have recognized in themselves."
For more information contact Lela Hilton, National Program Director