Three years ago, Phil Labrie became the assistant director of military and veterans outreach at Whitworth University.
“Since my first day here, I’ve advocated for a veteran’s resource center,” he said. “We have 80 vet students and 15 ROTC members.”
Labrie, a Whitworth grad, served almost five years in the Air Force and understands the need for veterans and current military personnel to have a dedicated space to connect.
In June, the university allocated a 3,000 square-foot house on the west end of the campus. The older home needed a lot of work and local businesses were happy to help. Labrie said Great Floors donated flooring, La-Z-Boy donated two recliners, and Casual Spaces and Ashley Furniture offered deep discounts on furnishings. Many sent cash donations including Northwest Golfers for Warriors, Disabled American Veterans of Spokane Chapter 6, and Michele Palm, owner of Inland Empire Tax & Accounting Services.
In early November, the Military and Veterans Resource Center (the MAVRC) opened its doors.
The center welcomes veteran and military students into a homey living room with a large TV – perfect for hosting football viewing parties. A fully-stocked kitchen offers plenty of snacks and coffee, and dedicated study areas feature desks, computers, and noise-canceling headphones.
“We have a large conference room in the basement where students can host meetings or work on group projects,” said Labrie.
There’s also an office for vets to meet with outside organizations that provide veteran’s services.
Labrie keenly understands that for some combat vets, a safe, quiet space is vital.
“We have an R&R room with a comfortable recliner, a Himalayan salt lamp and a diffuser for vets dealing with PTSD or traumatic brain injury,” he said.
Ty Burbridge helps staff the center. An AmeriCorps peer navigator for veterans, he’s also a grad student at Whitworth and served 3½ years of active duty in the Army.
“I remember our veterans space used to be a 200-square-foot room in the HUB,” he said. “This place feels like home.”
Fun things like a foosball table and an Xbox offers a way for students to unwind and connect.
“I’m going to be starting a dart league, too,” Burbridge said.
He’s glad the center provides a place for veterans to support each other, as well as a much-needed quiet space for study.
Bill Colley was one of the first students to take advantage of the newly-opened center. The 16-year Air Force veteran is in his second year of Whitworth’s Master in Teaching program. Like many vets, Colley juggles family life with work and study.
“My first encounter with MAVRC was when I volunteered with my three kids to clean up around the house,” Colley recalled. “I was so excited when I found out what this was going to be!”
He said his coursework was especially heavy this fall.
“I’d spend my days on campus and a big portion of them was at the MAVRC,” he said, adding that he made good use of the noise-canceling headphones.
Colley sees multiple layers of value for the veterans center.
“It’s a great place for transitioning vets, and it’s also great for ROTC candidates to connect with service members,” he said. “A lot of good conversations can happen.
“The fact that this is available here is unique and good for the university.”
“I’d love to see Whitworth become a university known as a welcoming place for those just getting out of the service,” he said.
The university is well on its way. In its 2022 Best Colleges Rankings, U.S. News & World Report ranked Whitworth No. 6 in the West for best colleges for veterans.
While a huge amount of sprucing up has already been done at the MAVRC, more work is needed to make the space ADA accessible. In the spring, Mark Peterson and the KXLY Extreme Team plan to come out and build a sidewalk ramp and do some exterior work.
“I’d love to have a patio for hosting barbecues,” Labrie said.
He’s been delighted by the response of the veterans who’ve visited the MAVRC.
“Their jaws drop,” he said, chuckling.
During the process of transforming the aging home into a welcoming oasis, Labrie said he often asked, “What’s the best way we can serve our vets and current military members? How can we say thank you for what they’ve done?”
He reflected on all the amenities the MAVRC currently offers.
“This center is the answer,” he said.